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Whither Ohio as the Ultimate House Battleground?

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
If Portman opts to not seek re-election — for whatever reason, including higher office — Democrats expect several candidates to run for the open Senate seat.

The Buckeye State’s campaign battleground is greater than the sum of its parts.

Thanks to redistricting, only a few competitive House seats remain in Ohio. But Senate and statewide races remain competitive, expensive and marquee contests.

“When it comes to the presidential, U.S. Senate seats or when the Democrats field a credible gubernatorial candidate, Ohio will be a battleground,” former state GOP Chairman Kevin DeWine said. “I think redistricting has rendered most of the districts as not very competitive in the general election.”

Ohio will not host a Senate race in 2014, so local operatives are already looking ahead to contests in 2016 and 2018. First-term Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, is up for re-election in two years, but Republicans view him as a potential candidate on the national ticket.

Portman can run for both Senate and on a national ticket, according to the Ohio secretary of state’s office. Local election law dictates that if a Senate vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement who serves until the next statewide election.

If there’s an opportunity to run for Senate, Republicans say state Treasurer Josh Mandel is eyeing a second campaign. Mandel ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2012 and faces a tough re-election to the treasurer’s office this year. If Mandel wins another term, he could try to oust Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, again in 2018 — but he’ll likely have company.

Multiple sources said Republican Rep. Steve Stivers is giving serious consideration to running for Senate as well. Stivers is currently a vice chairman for finance at the National Republican Congressional Committee — a position that allows him to cultivate relationships with national donors who would be useful for an expensive Senate campaign.

Democrats are not enthusiastic about taking on Portman as an incumbent. In 2013, state Rep. Bob Hagan, a Democrat, filed to run against Portman in 2016 and promised to run a feisty campaign in a Facebook statement.

But if Portman opts to not seek re-election — for whatever reason, including higher office — Democrats expect several candidates to run for the open Senate seat.

“Then it’s a different scenario; then it’s chaos,” said Steve Fought, communications director to Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio. “Everybody’s running then.”

Ohio Democrats most frequently name three rising stars in the party who could run for Senate: state Senate Minority Whip Nina Turner, state Rep. Connie Pillich, and Rep. Tim Ryan.

This cycle, Turner and Pillich are running for different statewide offices, secretary of state and state treasurer, respectively. If they win this cycle, and they want to pursue a hypothetically open Senate seat in 2016, they would have to start preparing another statewide bid soon after the 2014 elections.

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