After months of uncertain judicial wrangling and vitriolic national discourse, the Buckeye State’s decennial redistricting process finally seems complete. Back in 2021, conventional wisdom held that Ohio’s solidified Republican trifecta would adopt a GOP gerrymander just as effective as it did in 2012.
Following months of discourse, pundit world received exactly what it had expected: a 12-3 Trump map set to break 13-2 Republican in a Biden midterm. Everything appeared to be moving according to plan for the state GOP until Ohio’s Supreme Court struck down the congressional and legislative boundary proposals in January.
A drawn-out period of chaos accompanied the court’s ruling, casting a shadow over the vague directional intentions of the seemingly-incognito Ohio Redistricting Commission that was responsible for drafting new lines. The speculation and dysfunction ended in March, when Republicans unveiled a new map that seemed to be on the verge of being struck down by the court.
Over the ensuing month, Split Ticket has developed a better sense of where the redistricting winds are blowing in Ohio. Our observations lead us to a single conclusion: the latest congressional map will be in place this November. Part of the reason for this, as 538 has keenly noted, is the fact that any litigation before the state Supreme Court would be set to occur after the May primary.
So how different is the Buckeye State’s temporary congressional map from the previously-shunned proposals? The answer, ironically, is not that much. This plan is technically still 12-3 Trump, but the realistic Democratic maximum would probably be 5 seats. That assumes Republicans lose the Tossup districts 1, 9, and 13 amid a favorable national environment this November, an outcome that is unlikely to say the least.
The Dayton-centered 10th district was a narrow Trump seat in 2020, which would theoretically make it available to Democrats, but veteran Republican incumbent Mike Turner – next in line to Chair House Intelligence – outran the top of the ticket in 2020 and makes his district safe under current environmental conditions.
What this essentially means is that Democrats could still end up with a 13-2 deficit going into next January. In other words, Ohio redistricting is *slightly fairer* but more or less back to where it started late last year. As will be touched on later, though, the long-term future of this map is far from assured. Before analyzing greater implications, let’s take some time to look at the three tossup districts going into this fall.
District 1 (R) Steve Chabot – Cincinnati & Warren County
Steve Chabot and Frank Lucas* are currently the last remaining House Republicans elected in 1994. Chabot has been a fixture of the Cincinnati-area GOP for an invaluably-long span of time. Over the course of his career, he has proven to be resilient. He lost reelection in the 2008 wave before facilitating a successful comeback bid two years later.
Chabot outdid expectations by besting credible Democratic challengers in both 2018 and 2020. In the latter election Chabot won 52-45 in a district that President Trump carried just 50-47, proving that he could still attract enough Hamilton County ticket-splitters to outrun the top of the ticket. Given the make-up of the new 1st district, every Democratic-leaning voter that Chabot can convince to support his reelection will be crucial.
Just how much bluer is the new district? Significantly. Biden carried the redrawn 1st by 8.5 points, meaning Democrats would be favored to win if Chabot were to retire and the environment were to be hostile for Republicans.
The 11.5 point shift away from the GOP was accomplished by swapping out redder Hamilton County hinterlands in exchange for the other half of Cincinnati. All of Trump +31 Warren County remains in the district, but that territory only accounts for 1/3rd of the 1st’s total population. This underscores a reality that has always applied to Chabot’s seat: races are fought and won in Hamilton County.
Warren may make the 1st Biden +9 instead of Biden +28, but it is not enough to outvote the district’s Hamilton portion unless the Republican candidate is sufficiently restraining the Democratic lead in and around Cincinnati. President Trump got just 35% of the vote in the bluest section of the 1st, where the only heavily-Republican suburbs are Delhi and Reading.
To win, Chabot will need to outrun the former President’s numbers in Hamilton by even more than he did two years ago. That would be far from an impossible feat for a well-known incumbent riding the coattails of a red wave, but it will remain a difficult task given the 1st’s new partisan lean. After all, there are only so many ticket-splitting, college-educated Biden voters with enough political heritage and buyer’s remorse to considering backing Chabot in the fall.
Even though Democrats are frustrated that redistricting did not end up delivering a safer 1st district, the party still correctly recognizes that Chabot’s seat is one of its best national targets in a year when overall House prospects appear rather dim.
Much of that added optimism stems from the DCCC’s recruit: Cincinnati Councilman Greg Landsman. In addition to his local officeholder connections, Landsman is expected to hold his own against Chabot in the fundraising game. After decades in Washington, Chabot finds himself more vulnerable than ever before. It is, nevertheless, clear that if he were to choose a year in which to utilize his traditional electoral strengths and residual goodwill to win a Biden +9 seat, this is it. Tossup
*Frank Lucas was technically elected in a special election to succeed Democrat Glenn English in the months leading up to November ’94*
District 9 (D) Marcy Kaptur – Toledo & Erie Coast
In 1982, Democrat Marcy Kaptur ousted a freshman Republican incumbent during President Reagan’s first midterm. Since then, Kaptur has never faced a truly competitive reelection to her Lucas County (Toledo)-based seat. Even in 2010, a horrendously bad year for Democrats, the 9th stuck to its traditional allegiance firmly enough to deliver Kaptur an 18 point win. She received an even safer seat in 2012 redistricting.
Her current seat has been trending Republican as of late, but she has always managed to outrun the top of the ticket in Presidential cycles in a similar fashion to Dan Kildee or Tim Ryan. Now, on the verge of becoming the longest-serving woman in the history of the U.S. Congress, redistricting has dealt Kaptur her toughest set of cards yet.
The working-class white 9th that Kaptur currently represents backed Biden over Trump by a comfortable 58-40 margin two years ago, although that figure was a far cry from Obama’s *37 point* victory over Romney here in 2012. Trends aside, the Appropriations Committee’s most senior congresswoman would be a strong favorite for reelection under the current lines. Unfortunately for Kaptur, redistricting contrived her political fate.
On the recently-adopted map, Trump carried the 9th by roughly 3 points. That makes Kaptur’s seat a bit bluer than it was on the initial Republican proposal, but not by much. At the end of the day, Kaptur will join Democrats like Tom O’Halleran in attempting to hold down Republican-leaning seats at the top of the NRCC’s target list amid a difficult environment.
Luckily for Democrats, Kaptur should be able to use her carefully-crafted local brand and decades of political experience to keep her reelection close. Speaking in terms of Trump district Democrats, Kaptur should be more of a Jared Golden than a Cindy Axne.
So how did the 9th change so significantly following the latest redraw?
One of the main reasons was the removal of the district’s cobalt blue Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) portion. This section of the seat was added in 2012 to shore up Kaptur’s district on a map that was otherwise a GOP gerrymander. Kaptur mobilized her base in Toledo to defeat fellow incumbent Dennis Kucinich in the double-bunking primary that year.
The old 9th also included the city of Lorain, a key part of the Democratic column. Besides Toledo and the Erie County city of Sandusky, the rest of Kaptur’s new seat is solid GOP territory. Fulton, Williams, and Defiance counties were the newest additions to the district. All three had previously been in Congressman Bob Latta’s seat.
More than half of the population lives in Biden +16 Lucas County, meaning any ground the eventual Republican can make in and around Toledo would merely pad a district-wide victory assuming GOP margins in the rurals hold at or near Trump levels.
Given that the GOP now has a chance to unseat Kaptur for the first time in her career, it makes sense that the 9th district has attracted numerous potential candidates. The three contenders currently contesting the primary ballot are state Senator Theresa Gavarone, state Representative Craig Riedel, and J.R. Majewski.
Gavarone’s opponents have criticized her for living outside of the new seat in Wood County’s Bowling Green, although her Senate district does include all or part of Lucas, Fulton, Ottawa, and Erie counties.
Riedel lives in Defiance County, representing a House district in a portion of the state that was just added to Kaptur’s district and has few territorial connections to the rest of the seat.
The final candidate is J.R. Majewski, a Toledo veteran who went viral on social media after he stylized his front lawn to show his support for President Trump. Currently, Gavarone appears to have a solid grip on the primary race and could very well beat Kaptur in November. Tossup
District 13 Open – Akron & Canton
The final district that Split Ticket will be closely watching is the Biden +3 13th, an open seat stretching south from Akron to Canton. This district essentially pits the red suburban and exurban portions of Summit and Stark counties against their connected metros, though the Akron area definitely brings in the lion’s share of the district-wide Democratic vote. By itself, the Stark portion of the seat would favor President Trump 55-43.
With Republican incumbents Anthony Gonzalez and Bob Gibbs retiring, former Trump aide Max Miller is the favorite to win the 7th district. That leaves the new 13th wide open in a year that currently favors Republicans. Democrats have found an excellent recruit for the seat in Akron Representative and former Minority Leader Emilia Sykes.
While there is a significant base of white Democrats surrounding Akron to the northeast, the core of the party’s support stems from black voters in the city itself. Sykes, who has represented much of that critical demographic for the last seven years, could be particularly good at energizing African American voters.
Sykes can be expected to be a strong candidate in the fundraising sense too, much like Greg Landsman, but her path to victory remains highly-tenuous given the marginal nature of the 13th district. Many diverse neighborhoods in and around Canton and Akron trended rightward between the 2016 and 2020 Presidential elections. If Sykes somehow wins the Summit portion of the seat by less than Biden’s 10 point margin, victory will be difficult if not impossible to achieve.
The leading Republican candidate for the 13th seems to be Madison Gesiotto, a Trump-endorsed lawyer and former Miss Ohio. Other candidates include ex-Tim Scott aide Shay Hawkins and fellow attorney Greg Wheeler. At the end of the day, this is the type of district that a credible Democrat could capture and hold in stable environments. On the flip side, the headwinds of the 2022 cycle may prove too much for many swing district Democrats around the country to overcome. Tossup
Other Notes – One Primary Boils Down, Another Simmers Up
Besides the three aforementioned general election battles that are expected to draw most of the political world’s attention this year, Ohio’s rapidly-approaching May 3rd primary also stands to make its mark. The oddest part about this year’s nominating process in the Buckeye State is obviously the short duration of the campaign. Because the congressional lines were up in the air for so long, lawmakers had to resort to best guesses with regards to where and against whom they would have to run.
A lot of that ambiguity has since resolved itself. The filing period is over, and candidates across the state at every level of government can finally begin the one month sprint to the primary finish line. Campaign infrastructures have mostly been set up at this point, but – much in like North Carolina – the candidates themselves were in the dark for the last month. Since May will be here in just three weeks, the normal tossing and turning of the campaign environment should be supercharged and spat out at rapid-fire pace.
What are some of the divisive primaries to watch? Until yesterday, there were two: the GOP battle in OH-07 and the Democratic face-off in OH-11.
The redrawn 7th district stretches from the Cleveland suburbs down through Medina and Wayne counties. It backed Trump by around 10 points in 2020, placing it safely within the GOP column this fall. Republican Congressman Bob Gibbs, first elected in 2010, announced his retirement from the seat yesterday. Had Gibbs run, he would have had to familiarize himself with lots of new voters while simultaneously battling Trump-endorsed former White House aide Max Miller. All things considered, Gibbs’s retirement, like Fred Upton’s in Michigan, makes a lot of sense.
Meanwhile in the 11th district – metro Cleveland – tensions are heating up much faster than those in the 7th are cooling off. In some ways, the fractional divisions within the regional Democratic coalition never healed in the first place. The fissure separating progressivism from traditionalism amid the black electorate was put on perfect display last year, when Jim Clyburn-backed Shontel Brown defeated Bernie Sanders’s pick Nina Turner in a high-stakes special election primary to replace Marcia Fudge. Since then, a rematch has brewed.
The old the 11th tied two Democratic bases together: Cleveland and Akron. To achieve her 50-45% victory over Turner, Brown carried Cuyahoga’s black vote by a modest margin while sweeping the white vote in the same region. Turner did well with black voters, especially in Summit County, but she did not perform well enough to win the VRA district’s nomination.
Because the new 11th is entirely based around Cleveland, a Brown loss would be conventionally impossible assuming identical coalitions. Turner will also now have to put up with incumbency advantage, a name recognition-booster in any district nationwide. Nevertheless, Split Ticket expects the next month worth of campaigning ahead of the rematch to be volatile enough to merit watching.
Conclusion – The Bigger Picture
How will Ohio’s redistricting play out over the remainder of the decade? That is the difficult question on every pundit’s mind right now. Before discussing any hypotheticals, let’s mention the elephant in the room: this map will only be in place for the 2024 election cycle *at the latest*.
Assuming the new lines are not struck down sometime next year before the Presidential cycle heats up, Ohio will have to redistrict again before the 2026 midterms. Why you might ask? As 538 poignantly notes, Ohio’s redistricting rules effectively force mid-decade redraws if maps are not initially passed with bi-partisan support.
So what can we expect the Buckeye State’s next map to look like? With future litigation still shrouded by the fog of time, Split Ticket can only look at expected state government control when attempting to handicap future proposals. Republicans are not expected to lose their hold on Ohio, a state ostensibly moving away from the Democrats, any time soon.
For that reason, it is prescient to say only that future congressional maps should continue to inherently-benefit the GOP barring any outside intervention. Even the state Supreme Court might hesitate to boldly rule on redistricting questions in the future, especially if its tenuous ideological composition changes.
Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican who sided with Democrats at the heat of the redistricting case, will be a notable departure following the November elections.
My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying political science and international studies at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, aviation, and fitness.
Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or firstname.lastname@example.org