Valley delegation goes red
In a period of four years, Mahoning and Trumbull counties will have gone from every state legislative member being a Democrat to having five of its six members being a Republican.
That transformation will be official Monday when the Legislature starts its new term.
Republicans typically had ignored legislative races in Mahoning and Trumbull counties for years because the districts were Democratic strongholds.
There was an occasional surprise Republican win, but that was usually short lived with a Democrat capturing the seat in the next election.
In other cases, Republicans held seats that included portions of Mahoning or Trumbull counties largely because they were in the then-smaller conservative sections of those counties and drawn into districts that included large parts of surrounding Republican counties.
When Republican Donald Trump won Trumbull County and nearly Mahoning County during his successful 2016 presidential campaign, he didn’t have coattails in either county. It was as though several voters backed Trump and then voted a Democratic ticket or just supported him and left the rest of their ballot largely blank.
Things changed in 2018 in Mahoning County with the election of Republican Don Manning to a state House seat. Republican Michael Rulli was elected as a state senator that year even though he lost Mahoning County to Democrat John Boccieri because he kept it close in that county and dominated in Columbiana County, the other county in that district.
Change would come to Trumbull County in 2020 with Trump back on the ballot and several of his supporters voting for other Republicans.
Republican Mike Loychik beat incumbent Democrat Gil Blair for a state House seat and the same thing that happened with Rulli-Boccieri in 2018 occurred in 2020 with Trumbull County’s state Senate post. Republican Sandra O’Brien lost Trumbull County to incumbent Democrat Sean O’Brien, but kept it relatively close there and won big in the rest of the district, which includes all of Ashtabula County and a portion of Geauga County.
Republicans enjoyed success in this last election with all the incumbents re-elected by comfortable margins, including Rulli who handily won Mahoning County.
They also picked up an Ohio House seat in Trumbull County with Republican Nick Santucci beating Democrat Vincent Peterson II by 1.8 percent in a district that was drawn to favor Democrats.
Santucci was helped by Republican financial resources, receiving $82,706 in in-kind contributions during the post-general campaign finance period, between Oct. 20 and Dec. 9, from the Ohio House Republican Alliance and the Ohio Republican Party.
During the same time, Peterson received a $6,500 contribution from the Ohio House Democratic Campaign Committee when he needed more support.
This doesn’t discount Santucci’s impressive fundraising efforts as he raised more money from donors than virtually any first-time legislative candidate in the area’s history.
But having the financial support of your political party in a close election certainly helps.
Starting Tuesday, the lone Democrat in the Valley’s state legislative delegation will be Lauren McNally of Youngstown.
Republicans can look back with regret for not having a candidate in that state House race.
With the state legislative maps ruled unconstitutional five times by the Ohio Supreme Court, the primary for Ohio House and Senate seats was delayed from May 3 to Aug. 2. However, the Feb. 2 filing deadline for the primary remained.
The 59th House District’s lines were changed significantly in maps after the filing deadline and the seat went from a safe Democratic one to a toss-up.
Two independent candidates — Poland Township Trustee Eric Ungaro and Greg Beight of New Springfield — filed for the seat after the changes to the district.
McNally won with 40 percent of the vote with Ungaro getting 35.8 percent and Beight with 24 percent.
While Beight ran as an independent, he received all of his money from Republicans. Committees for Republican officeholders apparently have so much money they tossed $17,000 into Beight’s campaign in the final three weeks of the campaign. It was four times the amount of money raised by McNally and Ungaro combined during that same time period.
All state legislative districts will be redrawn for the 2024 election and are expected to be even more friendly to Republicans, the state’s dominant party.
McNally likely will be targeted during that election as Republicans go for a clean sweep in the Valley.