Ohio’s March primary highlights fracturing GOP House and state races riddled with party infighting

Columbus, Ohio — Despite wielding power in both chambers of the state legislature, Ohio’s Republican lawmakers are far from over this election season, as incumbents face challengers to their ranks amid a bitter Republican power struggle own party.

Next month’s primaries will likely be used to further the power struggle that has been going on in the state House since 2023, when a contentious House speaker’s race divided Republicans in the House of Representatives. Although Republican lawmakers hold supermajorities in both chambers, the Legislature last year managed to set a record for the fewest bills passed since the 1950s.

Democrats will decide some contentious primaries themselves, but even newly drawn Statehouse maps supported by both parties make it virtually impossible for them to win a majority in 2024.

All 99 seats in the Ohio House are up for grabs this year, as are 16 of the 33 seats in the Senate.

GOP House Speaker Jason Stephens won the chairmanship with the votes of 32 Democrats and 21 state House Republicans in January 2023. Nearly half of those Republicans will face opponents in the March 19 primary.

The rival camp, which backed Rep. Derek Merrin, a Republican from Monclova, for speaker, dubbed the Republicans and Stephens, who voted for himself, the “Blue 22.” These 22 have since been censured by the Ohio Republican Party, and the Merrin contingent has rallied support for their challengers.

As leader of the House of Representatives, Stephens has power over legislation that comes before the full House. He also manages more than $3 million in campaign funds for his caucus through the Ohio House Republican Alliance. Merrin and his supporters are trying to change that through an ongoing lawsuit that would take away that control.

And while Merrin is term-limited and Stephens is unopposed in the primary, the current speaker still has a fight ahead of him. Current Senate President Matt Huffman, who is also term-limited, is running for the House of Representatives and has no primary opponent.

Huffman has openly stated his desire to become chairman if elected, which is likely given the red nature of his district in Allen County. The Lima Republican has also donated to incumbents in the Merrin camp, and some of Huffman’s fellow conservative senators have publicly endorsed several challengers to Stephens’ supporters.

If Stephens’s number of supporters dwindles, he may fail to retain the coveted role of speaker. For now, Stephens is sitting comfortably on the alliance’s millions and nearly $760,000 in his personal campaign account. Huffman’s bill is almost $713,000.

Hamilton County Republican Rep. Bill Seitz decided not to seek re-election after a decades-long career in the Legislature. Vying for his seat are Democrats Stefanie Hawk and Daniel Voynovich, and lone Republican Mike Odioso – all from Cincinnati.

Former GOP Rep. Bob Young’s seat in Summit County is also wide open following his resignation from the House of Representatives last summer after being found guilty of domestic violence against his wife last October. Jack Daniels, a Republican from Akron, and Mary Stormer, a Republican from New Franklin, will vie for the GOP nominations. Jim Colopy of Akron is the only Democrat running for the seat.

Incumbent Rep. Elliot Forhan is currently under investigation for alleged violent and erratic behavior toward lawmakers, state House staff and constituents. He failed to gain the support of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party and was criticized by his community.

Forhan is widely expected not to win the primary in his district and faces several challengers, including Democrats Angel Washington and Eric Synenberg of Cleveland. Republican Joshua Malovasic is also a candidate.

Rep. Dave Dobos, a conservative from the Columbus area, announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election. Dobos came under fire when it was revealed that he never graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as he has claimed for decades, and that he failed to disclose more than $1 million in debt in 2014 as part of a business dispute.

Three Democrats are vying for Dobos’ seat: Ahmet Ali and Mark Sigrist, both of Grove City, and Sarah Pomeroy, of Columbus. Two Republicans, Shafi Ahmed of Columbus, and Brian Garvine of Grove City, are also running in the primary.

While the House of Representatives features some of this year’s more closely watched races, there are some eyes on it in one Senate district that could give minority Democrats another seat.

The Dayton area district now leans more blue than in previous years after the bipartisan redrawing of the Statehouse maps, creating a more exciting Democratic primary fight. Incumbent Republican Senator Niraj Antani is not seeking re-election but is running for Congress.

Democrats Jyl Hall of Kettering and Jocelyn Rhynard of Dayton are looking to fill the seat, as is current Rep. Willis Blackshear, also of Dayton. The only Republican on the primary ballot is Charlotte McGuire.


Samantha Hendrickson is a staff member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.