Speaker John A. Boehner’s resignation announcement Friday kicked off not only a frenetic scramble in House leadership, but also a special election for his safe Republican seat in Ohio, which could invite more than a half-dozen contenders.
A list of potential candidates was rattled off to CQ Roll Call within minutes of the news breaking about Boehner’s imminent departure — and it included both a former member of Congress and tabloid talk-show host Jerry Springer.
“I’m sure there will be a lot of interest,” Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges said. “It’s a Republican district and we’re going to wind up with a Republican in that seat. Whoever it is will have big shoes to fill.”
Ohio Republicans said the field is likely to be crowded, given the rarity of an open seat in prime GOP real estate such as the 8th District, which is shaped like a lowercase “r,” running north along the state’s western border from the Cincinnati suburbs and east toward Columbus. Mitt Romney carried the district with 62 percent in the 2012 presidential election, and there’s no telling when the seat will be vacant again.
Potential Republican candidates mentioned in the wake of Boehner’s surprising news included state Senate President Keith Faber, who cannot run again in 2016 because of term limits. Faber’s home is located outside of the 8th District, but his legislative district includes a rural chunk of the northern part of Boehner’s district. Faber’s name had come up as a potential attorney general candidate in the Buckeye State, but the unexpectedly open House seat provides another attractive option.
Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones, a tea party-aligned Republican from the southern part of the district, near Cincinnati, is also a possible candidate. Jones has made a name for himself for his hard-line stance on illegal immigration. Jones earned headlines back home after he met with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump — the bombastic businessman who’s made illegal immigration a cornerstone of his candidacy.
Former Rep. Steve Austria, who served two terms from 2009 to 2013, could also run. Austria declined to seek re-election in 2012 after reapportionment and redistricting eliminated his district. But he had $219,000 in his campaign account as of June, which would give him a head start on potential challengers.
Other possible Republican candidates include: state Sen. Bill Coley, from the southern part of the district near Cincinnati; state Sen. Chris Widener, from the central part of the district; state Sen. Bill Beagle, first elected in 2010. Beagle is from the Dayton area, which the central part of the 8th District wraps around; and former state Sen. Gary Cates, who was termed out of his seat in 2011 and is from the southern part of the district.
The options are slimmer on the Democratic side, thanks to GOP lean of the district. But the most intriguing name to emerge was Springer, the TV star and Ohio native who served as mayor of Cincinnati in the 1970s.
Once Boehner’s resignation becomes official on Oct. 30, presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich will be required to call a special election to fill the vacancy. Kasich is already working with the Ohio secretary of State’s office to determine potential election dates, according to a source with knowledge of the conversations.
Aside from needing to adhere to federal rules providing enough time for overseas military to cast ballots, Kasich has leeway on scheduling. Some GOP operatives in the state predict he will set the special election primary to align with the Buckeye State’s presidential primary — slated for March 15 — in a move that would save the state money.
Boehner first came to Congress in 1991, after a competitive GOP primary against a former congressman, both of whom finished ahead of disgraced incumbent Donald E. “Buz” Lukens. Lukens was convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, after he was caught on camera talking to a teenager about having sexual relations with her. Boehner went on to win the general with 61 percent of the vote, the lowest vote share in his congressional career.
Boehner was re-elected to the House 12 times, never with less than 64 percent. In 2014, he faced a primary against two Republicans who questioned his conservative credentials. He won with a commanding 72 percent.
Emily Wilkins contributed to this report.