Republicans see an opportunity in two area legislative contests

On the side

A “judicial preference poll” of the Trumbull County Bar Association in the Niles Municipal Court race showed no preference between the two candidates running for position in the Nov. 7 general election.

A candidate must receive two-thirds or greater of the vote to get the preference of the bar association.

Running for the seat, being vacated by Judge Thomas W. Townley at the end of the year, is Chris Shaker, who won a four-person Democratic primary in May, and Kara A. Stanford, both of Niles.

The court’s jurisdiction includes Niles, Weathersfield and McDonald.

State Rep. John Boccieri’s decision to run for the Ohio Senate has changed the complexity of what likely will be two of the more competitive races on next year’s ballot.

The decision by Boccieri, a Poland Democrat, to give up his 59th Ohio House District seat and seek the 33rd Ohio Senate District position means Republicans will be focused on both races as there won’t be an incumbent in either.

There wasn’t going to be an incumbent in the Senate race as state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Boardman Democrat, is unable to run next year because of term limits. Schiavoni is among four announced Democrats for governor.

Boccieri becomes the favorite for the Senate seat – that represents all of Mahoning and Columbiana counties – as he’s an experienced legislator who’s raised a lot of money and has won elections before to the Ohio Senate, Ohio House and U.S. House.

But it’s far from a slam-dunk victory for the Democrat.

The district went for Republican Donald Trump in the presidential election, primarily because he beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than 19,000 votes in Columbiana County. Overall, Trump received 85,292 votes to 69,813 for Clinton in the 33rd Senate District.

Michael Rulli has announced he will run for the Senate seat as a Republican and has the backing of several local GOP leaders.

Rulli, a Leetonia school board member for nearly eight years, has name recognition in the district thanks to being director of operations for Rulli Bros., the family-owned local grocery store business.

It could turn into an expensive race.

“That Senate race should be very competitive,” said Mark Munroe, Mahoning County Republican Party chairman. “That is a district that can be won with the right candidate.”

Republicans have a 24-9 advantage in the state Senate.

The district includes the 5th, 58th and 59th Ohio House Districts.

The 5th District takes in all of Columbiana County, which is a solid Republican area.

The 58th includes Youngstown and the surrounding areas, which is a solid Democratic area.

The 59th includes Boardman, Canfield, Poland and the rural parts Mahoning County. It has leaned Democratic in the past, but could easily be a Republican district now that Boccieri, a proven vote-getter in the county, isn’t seeking another term.

In the 2016 race, Boccieri beat Republican Don Manning 58 percent to 42 percent.

The 59th seat has already drawn interest from two Democrats and two Republicans.

Manning, who’s also unsuccessfully run for commissioner in Mahoning and Trumbull counties and for the U.S. House, is again campaigning for the state House seat. Republican Ian Tanner, who works in student housing at Youngstown State University, has also expressed interest in the position.

“There’s talk of other potential candidates,” Munroe said.

On the Democratic side, Boardman Trustee Larry Moliterno, who likely would have run for the state Senate if Boccieri didn’t, and Poland Trustee Eric Ungaro say they will seek the party’s nomination for the 59th Ohio House seat.

It should be a competitive primary between the two officeholders.

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