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Rulli rules in race for Congress

.State Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, right, and David Spencer, general consultant, view early voting results as they come in on a laptop Tuesday evening...by R. Michael Semple

Republican state Sen. Michael Rulli is heading to the U.S. House of Representatives after defeating Democrat Michael L. Kripchak for the open 6th Congressional District seat in a race that was far closer than expected.

Rulli, of Salem, was leading Kripchak of Youngstown 54.6% to 45.4%, according to unofficial results Tuesday with 95% of the district reporting. He was ahead by a little more than 5,000 votes.

Asked about the tight race, Rulli said, “I am absolutely surprised it was this close. We never saw a blowout. We saw 7-10%. It’s the district of Ted Strickland and Charlie Wilson (two Democrats who represented it several years ago). It’s a divided country.”

The district has an 18% advantage to Republicans based on voting results in partisan statewide elections over the past decade. Republican Donald Trump won the district in the 2020 presidential race by 29% over Democrat Joe Biden.

Kripchak couldn’t be reached to comment late Tuesday.

Rulli said he will resign from his state Senate seat after today’s session and give a goodbye speech.

Rulli said he plans to be sworn in July 25 to his congressional seat.

“I’m very excited and I’m very humbled,” Rulli said.

“The (Republican) primary was the hardest fight of my life. It’s a rough life, but I’m honored that people have faith in me.”

The board of elections of Mahoning, the district’s most-populous county, will meet June 27 to certify the results of Tuesday’s election.

Rulli is filling the rest of Republican Bill Johnson’s unexpired term.

Johnson resigned Jan. 21 after 13 years in Congress to become Youngstown State University president. The 6th District has gone unrepresented since then.

Rulli and Kripchak will face each other again Nov. 5 for a full two-year House term that starts in January 2025.

Rulli hired Mark O’Connell, the vice president of governmental affairs for the Plastic Industry Association, as his chief of staff, and Graham Lescallette, the Northeast Ohio district director for U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, as his deputy chief of staff.

He will have staff set up his congressional office early next week and is still looking to hire others. Rulli said he will reopen Johnson’s Canfield office at the end of this month or early July.

Rulli said he hopes to get appointed to a seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee — Johnson served on that committee — or Ways and Means, but realizes he probably doesn’t have seniority yet for those assignments.

Alex Triantafilou, Ohio Republican Party chairman, said of Rulli: “I am confident he will do a tremendous job for his constituents, and I look forward to working with him to support our Republican candidates up and down the ballot in November.”

The 6th Congressional District includes all of Mahoning, Columbiana, Carroll, Jefferson, Belmont, Harrison, Monroe, Noble and Washington counties and portions of Stark and Tuscarawas counties.

Mahoning is, by far, the district’s most-populous county.

Kripchak won the early vote with 61% of the vote and saw his lead slip away as those who voted at polling locations Tuesday backed Rulli.

Still, Kripchak won Tuscarawas County. He also was leading in Mahoning by 14 votes, according to unofficial totals.

Carroll was Rulli’s strongest county, winning it with 67.3% of the vote.

Rulli won his home county, Columbiana, with 65.4% of the vote.

The special election cost about $1 million to hold.

As expected, voter turnout – it was the only race on Tuesday’s ballot during a day that is atypical for elections in Ohio – was very low.

The race between Rulli, who is serving his second four-year term in the state Senate, and Kripchak, a first-time candidate, was relatively low key.

While Rulli had a huge financial advantage over Kripchak, he chose not to do much campaigning for the seat.

Rulli ran on a platform of fostering robust job growth, addressing inflation and ensuring economic stability, and immigration reform.

Kripchak’s campaign priorities were creating high-paying, high-skilled jobs in the district; rejuvenating the nation’s public education system; and fixing the failures of the federal farm bill.

With Rulli’s resignation taking effect today, a replacement for him in the 33rd Ohio Senate District will be chosen Thursday.

The district includes all of Mahoning, Columbiana and Carroll counties.

The Senate district favors Republicans by about 9.5% based on partisan statewide voting results during the past decade.

The Republican Party chairs and secretaries in the three districts will meet Thursday morning to appoint a candidate to run on the Nov. 5 ballot for the final two years of Rulli’s term – from the start of 2025 to the end of 2026.

The Ohio Senate Republican Caucus plans to appoint Rulli’s successor later Thursday to serve through the end of the year.

The Senate caucus will appoint whoever the six officials from the 33rd District vote to put on the ballot, said Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Tom McCabe.

The candidates interested in the seat are state Rep. Al Cutrona of Canfield; state Rep. Monica Robb Blasdel of Columbiana; Tim Ginter of East Liverpool, a former House speaker pro tempore who is running in November for Columbiana County commissioner; Columbiana County Commissioner Michael Halleck; and Austintown Trustee Robert Santos.

The two favorites are Cutrona, who McCabe backs, and Robb Blasdel, who Columbiana County Republican Party Chairman Dave Johnson supports.

If either Cutrona or Robb Blasdel is appointed to the state Senate, Republicans will have to go through a similar process to appoint a candidate for the Nov. 5 election and to fill out the unexpired term of either state House member.

The Democratic chairs in the three counties will be meeting virtually Friday or Monday to discuss the state Senate candidate appointment process, said Mahoning County Democratic Chairman Chris Anderson.

The plan is for Democrats interested in the appointment to submit a letter of interest by July 1.

After town halls are held July 10 with members of the central and executive committees and then on July 16 with the public, the Democrats will select a candidate by July 19, Anderson said.

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick.

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