Brown, Carey win open Ohio seats, keeping party control unchanged

Democrats’ hope for upset dashed as GOP easily holds Stivers seat

Democrat Shontel Brown has won the special election for Ohio’s 11th District, succeeding Marcia Fudge, who resigned in March to become secretary of Housing and Urban Development. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images file photo)
Democrat Shontel Brown has won the special election for Ohio’s 11th District, succeeding Marcia Fudge, who resigned in March to become secretary of Housing and Urban Development. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images file photo)
Posted November 2, 2021 at 10:23pm

Corrected, Nov. 4 | Ohio’s two open House seats will be filled by the same parties that controlled them at the start of the year after special election victories Tuesday by Democrat Shontel Brown in the Cleveland-area 11th District and Republican Mike Carey in the 15th District south of Columbus.

Carey, a coal lobbyist, campaigned on his allegiance to former President Donald Trump as he sought to succeed Republican Steve Stivers, who resigned in May to run the state Chamber of Commerce.

Carey was leading Democratic state Rep. Allison Russo 59 percent to 41 percent when The Associated Press called the race at 10:08 p.m. Eastern time. 

The victory was a boon to Republicans, whose midterm strategy revolves around picking up support from suburban independents souring on President Joe Biden’s agenda while maintaining the backing of their pro-Trump base. 

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said Carey’s win was driven by attitudes toward Biden.

“Ohioans vehemently rejected his far-left agenda,” she said in a statement.

Some Democrats had hoped that Russo’s tireless campaigning and bipartisan credentials could help her pull off an upset that would offset otherwise gloomy predictions about the party’s ability to hold on to its narrow House majority in the midterms. But the district is safely Republican — Trump carried it by 14 points in 2020, according to calculations by Daily Kos elections.

Neither party has managed to flip an Ohio district in the decade since the current congressional map was drawn by the Republican-controlled state legislature. 

Brown, who chairs the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, beat Republican Laverne Gore in the race for the seat Democrat Marcia L. Fudge vacated to become secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

She was leading Gore 82 percent to 18 percent when the AP called the race at 7:53 p.m. Eastern time.

Brown won a contentious and expensive August primary against progressive Nina Turner, who co-chaired Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. Since then, she has been racking up endorsements — including one last week from Speaker Nancy Pelosi — as a potential 2022 challenge from Turner looms. The 11th District, which stretches from Cleveland to Akron, backed Biden by 61 points in 2020, according to Daily Kos Elections. 

These are likely the last elections under the current Ohio map, with the state losing a House seat in redistricting.

Trump front and center

Carey put his Trump endorsement front-and-center during his campaign, a strategy that helped him in the Aug. 3 GOP primary, when he took 37 percent of the vote in an 11-person field that included better-known rivals, including a state lawmaker Stivers had endorsed. 

He declared on his campaign website that he was “pro-Trump” and “ready to fight.” He painted Russo as a potential ally of Pelosi who would feed inflation and waste taxpayer money. He also criticized Biden’s border policy and talked about “energized” crowds at school board meetings, where Republicans hope anger over the way racial issues are taught can help them win over suburban voters.

Russo was endorsed by Biden this week. She hammered Carey for declining debate appearances and aired TV ads attempting to tie him to a 2018 scandal involving the company that Carey worked for as a lobbyist, Murray Energy. The state GOP called the ad “riddled with errors” and asked local television stations to stop airing it. 

Russo’s campaign reported raising $550,000 in the the most recent fundraising period — on par with Carey’s $549,000. Her total for the cycle was $823,000, compared with $1 million for Carey. Both had around $180,000 in the bank on Oct. 13.

National groups did not invest heavily in the race until the final weeks. The conservative Freedom’s Defense Fund, the pro-Trump Defend US PAC and the Ohio Republican Party central committee spent a total of $2.2 million supporting Carey after the August primary, according to Federal Election Commission reports. 

Fight Back Now America, a group aligned with former Trump campaign operative Cory Lewandowski, spent $920,000 on text messaging to oppose Russo, according to FEC reports. Russo attacked Carey for his close friendship with Lewandowski after Lewandowski was accused of sexually harassing a prominent Trump donor.

Russo benefited from $3.8 million in advertising, canvassing, phone banking and robocalls from the Democratic group MoveOn.org, Protect the Vote and Working America, the political organizing arm of the AFL-CIO, after the primary, according to FEC reports.

A group called the Center for Civic Information spent $36,000 opposing Carey. A group by the same name, formed by an analyst for Democratic campaigns, was active in the Georgia Senate primaries last year, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 

The 15th District, drawn by GOP state lawmakers to favor Republicans, includes liberal enclaves such as the college town of Athens and the upscale and largely white Columbus suburbs. But it also reaches into deeply rural territory and former coal-mining regions.

This report has been updated to reflect the correct amount spent by the Center for Civic Information to oppose Republican Mike Carey in the special election in Ohio’s 15th District.