In a development that could signal danger for Republicans heading into the general election, Ohio state Sen. Kirk Schuring on Tuesday only narrowly won the GOP nod in the open-seat primary to replace retiring Rep. Ralph Regula (R).
Regula had endorsed Schuring early on, and the state lawmaker was the only candidate in the three-way GOP primary to run TV ads ahead of Election Day. But Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller, who ran against Regula in 2006 in the GOP primary, came within 5 points of upsetting the Republican establishment favorite.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Schuring said he always anticipated Miller would mount a solid primary challenge, in part because he had been running for the office for the past two years. But Schuring’s base lies in the more populated Stark County, a region that he says makes up 60 percent of the general election vote.
Although the 16th district gave President Bush 54 percent of the vote in the 2004 White House election, national Democrats are sky-high on their nominee, state Sen. John Boccieri. But Republicans say Schuring will hold the district that Regula has served since 1973.
“The Republican tilt to the district gives Kirk Schuring an edge in a state that is expected to be hotly contested from the top of the ticket down,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said. “He will be well positioned to run on his pro-growth record while John Boccieri is still trying to find his way around the district and explaining his record of higher taxes and big government.”
Nonetheless, Democrats pointed to Schuring’s relatively weak showing as proof that Boccieri is well-positioned for this fall’s general election.
“Kirk Schuring is the representative of the Taft years of corruption and high taxes who has the support of the same businesses that have shipped our jobs overseas,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer, referring to the unpopular administration of former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R).
Beyond Schuring’s narrow victory, there were several other significant primaries in the Buckeye State on Tuesday.
In the 10th district, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) held onto his west Cleveland seat. Kucinich, the erstwhile presidential contender, took 50 percent of the vote, with well-funded Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman (D) finishing 15 points behind.
The remaining three Democratic candidates split the rest of the vote, leaving many Cimperman supporters to believe that Kucinich could have been defeated if not for the split competition. Kucinich is expected to win the general election easily.
Another incumbent who was thought to have a tough challenge also held onto her seat Tuesday, as Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) won her third primary in as many years in her southern Ohio district, holding off state Rep. Tom Brinkman by almost 18 points. Schmidt will be a top target in November, as she squares off against physician Victoria Wulsin, the 2006 Democratic nominee who lost by just 1 point.
Besides Schuring, other Washington-backed candidates also won their respective primary bids for open-seat races. In the 15th district, state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) easily defeated Ohio State University professor Robert Wagner (R) Tuesday and will square off in a highly competitive general election contest against Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D), who narrowly lost the race to retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce (R) in 2006.
State Sen. Steve Austria (R) won his three-way primary in the 7th district, and the race to replace retiring Rep. David Hobson (R) is considered to be a safe bet for Republicans this fall.
Meanwhile, freshman Rep. Zack Space (D) learned who his general election opponent in will be, after former state Agriculture Director Fred Dailey won the GOP nod in a four-way primary. Although the 18th district is heavily Republican on paper, it remains to be seen what kind of challenger Dailey will be and what kind of resources national Republicans are willing to sink into the race.