Looking Ahead to 2016: 15 Open Seats Headline Ohio House Races

Last week, I laid out the 2016 political landscape for the Ohio Senate with a focus on the open seats created by term limits. Now I want to do the same for the Ohio House. How many open seats will there be, and is there an opportunity for the Democrats to take back a majority?

Tackling the first question, there are 15 representatives that will be term-limited next year. In that mix are 11 Republicans and 4 Democrats. What is interesting is that this class of representatives, with so many Republicans, was elected in 2008, a great year for Democrats. At that point there was a Democratic majority in the House of 53 seats. In the past three election cycles Democrats have lost a total of 19 House seats though, many of them held by representatives that would have been term-limited next year. Obviously there will always be an attrition rate that makes the 1st and 2nd term classes larger than the 3rd and 4th, but this is a particularly small class and the high Democratic turnover explains why.

The chart below shows the districts with open seats in 2016, the current representative, the counties the district covers, and the Partisan Voter Index (PVI).

District Representative Counties Partisan Voter Index
HD 1 Ron Amstutz (R) Wayne +9 Republican
HD 16 Nan Baker (R) Cuyahoga +2 Republican
HD 23 Cheryl Grossman (R) Franklin +1 Republican
HD 31 Denise Driehaus (D) Hamilton +19 Democrat
HD 47 Barbara Sears (R) Fulton, Lucas +6 Republican
HD 49 Stephen Slesnick (D) Stark +10 Democrat
HD 53 Tim Derickson (R) Butler +10 Republican
HD 57 Terry Boose (R) Huron, Lorain +4 Republican
HD 59 Ron Gerberry (D) Mahoning +6 Democrat
HD 62 Ron Maag (R) Warren +19 Republican
HD 68 Margaret Ann Ruhl (R) Delaware, Knox +12 Republican
HD 70 Dave Hall (R) Ashland, Holmes, Medina +9 Republican
HD 74 Bob Hackett (R) Clark, Madison, Greene +10 Republican
HD 87 Jeff McClain (R) Crawford, Marion, Morrow, Seneca, Wyandot +9 Republican
HD 94 Debbie Phillips (D) Athens, Meigs, Vinton, Washington +6 Democrat

A couple districts stick out as being particularly competitive. HD 16 and HD 23 lean slightly Republican, but are located in urban areas. Like in the Ohio Senate with SD 16 and SD 24, the Republican advantage could be erased by presidential year turnout, which tends to favor Democrats. As a result, if Democrats can recruit solid candidates, both of these races are definitely in play. Republicans may already have a candidate in HD 16, as Cuyahoga County Councilman Dave Greenspan has expressed interest in running.

The only other competitive open seat would be HD 57. Rep. Terry Boose has performed well there, but considering the district’s proximity to Cleveland it’s possible the race could tighten with high turnout.

There are a few races with a PVI of +6, but they’re unlikely to be competitive. Neither party currently holds a seat that has a PVI of more than +4 in favor of the other party, even coming off the heavily Republican year of 2014. Republicans could use their vast financial resources to target HD 94 perhaps, where Rep. Debbie Phillips only won by 394 votes last year, but the district includes Ohio University and the electorate will look quite a bit different next year.

Now to answer the second question, can Democrats take back a majority?

By the numbers, it’s essentially impossible. A 16-seat swing in a single year would be unprecedented. Since Ohio fixed the number of representatives at 99 in 1964, the most a party has gained in one election cycle is 13 seats – Democrats in 1972 and Republicans in 2010. The legislative map makes that an even steeper hill to climb, as 60 seats in the House lean Republican and only 39 Democratic. In August, I wrote about the challenges Democrats face in taking back the Ohio House with the current map.

So what should Democrats do?

Well, how do you eat a whale? One bite at a time. Right now Democrats should focus on the three competitive open seats I’ve already mentioned, along with the five seats Republicans hold that lean Democratic – HD 3 (Brown), HD 36 (DeVitis), HD 43 (Rezabek), HD 55 (Manning), and HD 89 (Kraus). Performing well in those eight races will get them much closer to striking distance.

There is still a long way to go. More seats could very well open up over the next year, especially with a handful of open Senate seats that could lure a few incumbent representatives away. For now though, as far as open seats are concerned, this is what to expect for the Ohio House in 2016.

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