Ohio’s Republican primaries for US House promise crowded ballots and a heated toss-up

Estimated read time 6 min read

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A slew of Republican candidates on Ohio’s primary ballot are running in solidly red congressional seats, but next week’s elections still promise plenty of drama — especially as the GOP seeks a champion to flip the district of Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving woman in Congress.

Democrats also have their own primary challenges in the more urban and solidly-left districts this month, although those battles aren’t as closely watched as the diverse GOP matchups.

Secure doesn’t mean boring. This year’s GOP primaries include a jam-packed race in southern Ohio, the future representation of East Palestine a year after the toxic train derailment, and a contentious primary that could unseat Kaptur, who is one of the GOP’s biggest targets in the fierce fight over control of the U.S. House.


The fight for the Republican nomination to take on Kaptur this fall has been anything but dull.

But after a chaotic start, national Republicans are feeling more optimistic about their chances in Ohio’s 9th Congressional District, which stretches along the Lake Erie coast in northwest Ohio.

Ever since Kaptur’s slightly Democratic district was redrawn to favor Republicans, the 77-year-old has been a prime GOP target.

Nonetheless, Kaptur trounced Republicans’ 2022 nominee, the Donald Trump-aligned J.R. Majewski, and party leaders were initially concerned that the district was headed to a 2024 rematch. But Majewski exited the race March 2 after he disparaged Special Olympics athletes, saying he would commit himself to Trump’s reelection.

That leaves former state Rep. Craig Riedel, another 2022 contender for the seat, and latecomer state Rep. Derek Merrin, endorsed by U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, as the two main competitors. Also running is Steve Lankenau, a former mayor.

Merrin, the establishment favorite, was recruited after after comments surfaced of Riedel criticizing Trump.

But Riedel continues to have the high-profile backing of U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, who is among Trump’s fiercest allies in Washington.

Merrin is perhaps best known to his constituents for an intraparty revolt at the Ohio Statehouse last year, after he failed to win the speakership pledged to him.

Both Merrin and Riedel are viewed by party leadership as viable against Kaptur. Trump has not endorsed in the race.


Nearly a dozen Republicans will have their names on the primary ballot in what’s shaping up be the most expensive and crowded of Ohio’s congressional races.

Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District, which covers much of southern Ohio, is ripe for the taking after GOP U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup retired last year. The proverbial hat quickly filled with names to replace him in the solidly red district — 11 Republicans, to be exact.

A large number of primary candidates isn’t unusual when a seat loses an incumbent, but 11 is rare, said Teresa Wooldridge, the deputy director of the Pike County Board of Elections who has worked in elections for 26 years.

With such a crowded ballot, far less than a majority of votes will be needed to win the Republican nomination and face lone Democrat Samantha Meadows in November.

But a few names have been headlining the primary season, several of whom have exceeded $1 million in campaign funds. Two of the better known figures are sitting state Sens. Shane Wilkin and Niraj Antani.

Antani says he is running as the “anti-establishment” Republican, akin to Jordan and other members of the U.S. House’s Freedom Caucus. Antani has managed to raise over $670,000, according to state campaign finance reports, despite not living in the district. Wilkin, who entered the race late, sits at nearly $146,000.

If campaign funding is a barometer, though, Dave Taylor, a Clermont County business owner, is leading the field, with $1.7 million reported — most of which is self-funded.

Larry Kidd, a southern Ohio business owner and current OneOhio Recovery Foundation board member, reports raising $1.4 million, and Tim O’Hara, a retired U.S. Marine Corps drill sergeant who owns a chain of restaurants, had about $1.3 million on hand as of February 2024.

Many of the candidates are running on the same issues, including support for Trump.

But Phil Heimlich — son of Dr. Henry Heimlich, inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver — is the race’s lone anti-Trump candidate. He’s won the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republican congress members to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection.


Voters in Ohio’s 6th Congressional District will actually cast their vote for the seat twice on March 19.

Their votes will decide first who will represent their party in a special election in June to succeed former U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, a Republican who retired Jan. 21 to become president of Youngstown State University.

Their second vote will determine nominees to compete in the November general election for a new congressional term that begins January 2025.

The heart of the district, which runs along the Ohio River in eastern Ohio, recently observed the one-year anniversary of the devastating East Palestine train derailment.

Republican Rick Tsai, a chiropractor from East Palestine, is running on the derailment issue. He has criticized government entities and the Norfolk Southern railway company for their handling of the derailment and its impact on the community. Testimonials from East Palestine residents applauding his advocacy have been posted to his campaign website.

But Tsai faces an uphill battle against two sitting state lawmakers: state Sen. Michael Rulli of Mahoning County, and state Rep. Reggie Stoltzfus of Stark County. Both are running on similar issues such as securing the southern border and increasing oil and gas production within Ohio instead of getting energy outside the United States.

Both are better funded and have secured key endorsements, including the National Rifle Association and Ohio Right to Life, as well as some East Palestine officials.

The Democratic candidates running in the Republican-leaning district include Rylan Finzer, a small business owner from Stark County, and Michael Kripchak, an Air Force veteran and restaurant worker from Youngstown.


Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth contributed to this report.


Samantha Hendrickson is a corps 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.