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Ohio Members Drowned Out by Ads

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Betty Sutton is in a tight Member-vs.-Member race for the state’s 16th district against her Republican rival, Rep. Jim Renacci.

MEDINA, Ohio — Parking officer Bud Haynes can’t be bothered to remember any candidates he watches on local television commercials anymore.

“I counted 12 in a half-hour a couple days ago,” Haynes, 78, said while on a coffee break from chalking tires in the town square here Tuesday morning.

As a result, Haynes doesn’t know much about Reps. Jim Renacci (R) or Betty Sutton (D) except their party affiliations — and he’s not alone.

The Member-vs.-Member battle is one of the most competitive and expensive this redistricting cycle. But in northeastern Ohio, the contest is an afterthought.

The presidential campaign and a top-tier Senate race dominate the Cleveland airwaves and the political mind capacity of local voters. There’s little oxygen left for a House race — even one as contested as this.

That’s good news for Renacci — and bad for Sutton — in a district that Republicans drew to win. Less than three weeks until Election Day, the contest remains highly competitive, and Roll Call continues to rate it as a Tossup. But Sutton has a greater hurdle in a district that’s close to completely new to her.

“I know [Renacci] used to be a car dealership owner,” said Bill Repp, a 55-year-old security salesman at Cool Beans Café in Medina, located about 45 minutes southwest of Cleveland. “Betty, she’s been in politics for a while. I used to think that was good.”

On Election Day, Repp believes he will default to voting Republican. The 16th district is filled with voters such as him: fiscally conservative, economy-minded people living in dwindling manufacturing strongholds.

The disjointed district begins west of Cleveland, just a few miles from the Lake Erie’s shore, travels south along the city’s suburbs to absorb Medina, Wadsworth and Wooster on its west side. On the east side, it picks up small towns between Akron and Canton — including Sutton’s residence in Copley — but leaves out her hometown and geographic base of Barberton.

“They believed they would win this from the start because they would keep me from running if they kept it unattractive enough,” Sutton said, after speaking to a group of supportive firefighters in Avon on Wednesday. “That’s not who I am, and that’s not who the people of northeast Ohio are.”

It’s a region of Ohio that’s experienced population loss during the past decade. This decline contributed to the state shedding two House seats following reapportionment last year.

Republicans controlled the redrawing of lines in the state and moved Renacci and Sutton into the same district. About half of the district is new to Renacci, while Sutton currently represents about one-fifth of its territory.

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