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This is the weirdness of the 2022 midterm elections: An Ohio Republican associated with the QAnon conspiracy movement – and who painted massive Donald Trump murals on his lawn and put out a crass rap song on his campaign website – will face off in November against a Democrat who could become the longest-serving woman in Capitol Hill history.
It could be a close one
Due to Ohio’s newly drawn congressional map, the race is likely to be a tossup, according to professional handicappers.
He went to the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally
J.R. Majewski, the Republican who describes himself as working in the nuclear energy industry, was born in Toledo, Ohio, in 1979 and won Tuesday’s crowded Republican primary for the 9th Congressional District.
He previously told the Toledo Blade he attended the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021, but says he didn’t breach the US Capitol.
She’s an old-school, labor-supporting Dem
Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the incumbent, was first elected to represent Toledo in 1982, before Majewski was old enough to be in kindergarten. She’s an old-school, union-backing Democrat – in a place where Democrats, who have paid lip service to unions without much to show for it, have struggled to keep up.
This is not the district Kaptur is used to
In the decade leading up to this election, the 9th District spanned 140 miles of Lake Erie coastline – everything in the two-plus hour drive from the Democratic stronghold of Toledo east to the Democratic stronghold of Cleveland.
Kaptur routinely won elections with more than 60% of the vote.
That old district is gone now, carved up in a redistricting process controlled by the state’s Republican majority, who also had to deal with Ohio’s loss of a congressional seat after the 2020 Census.
Ohio has lost House members every decade since the ’70s
The tide has been going out in Ohio for decades. The state had 21 US House members back when Kaptur took office in 1983.
Starting next year, when she hopes to be sworn in for the 21st time, Ohio will have just 15 US House seats.
New voters for Kaptur and Majewski
Kaptur will have to win reelection in 2022 by introducing herself to a portion of the state she’s never represented in all those decades – the rural northwestern corner, including Williams and Defiance counties, where the voters are more used to being represented by a Republican.
That Republican, Rep. Bob Latta, will have to introduce himself to some of the Democratic-leaning areas east of Toledo that Kaptur has been representing for some time.
Carving up the ‘snake on the lake’
CNN’s data visualization and politics teams are charting how each state’s congressional districts have changed. Below and in this link, you can see Kaptur’s old, long, thin district, which has been referred to as the “snake on the lake.” It was very blue and reliably Democratic. The new version is no longer blue and stretches across a different portion of the state.
Redistricting is a part of US politics. Kaptur is no stranger to it.
When the “snake on the lake” district was created, Kaptur bested former Rep. Dennis Kucinich in a 2012 Democratic primary – her closest race in a long time.
Kaptur ran unopposed in the 2022 Democratic primary on Tuesday.
She hasn’t felt heat from a Republican challenger recently, although she did soundly beat another, Samuel Wurzelbacher – more commonly known as Joe the Plumber – in 2012.
This year will be different
Republicans are hoping a wave of economic frustration will sweep them into the House majority, and with a very different look to districts like Kaptur’s.
A fraught and political redistricting effort in Ohio saw state Republicans reject proposals for maps that would likely have produced a more even ratio of Republicans to Democrats in Congress. Instead, the state will likely have a heavy Republican tilt. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the map that decided how Ohio voters cast their ballots on Tuesday an “F” for partisan fairness.
Whoever wins in November, it will be a switch for Ohio voters
Somebody is in for a shock. It will either be voters from Democrat-heavy Toledo, who have supported Kaptur for decades, or those from rural Williams County, who are more used to the conservative Latta.
“If she remains the congresswoman for the district, it will be a culture shock for us,” Patti Rockey, who chairs the Williams County GOP, told me last week before the primary. “We are not used to having people represent us who don’t have conservative values,” she said, although she expressed confidence that Kaptur would be retired by these new voters.
A party in decline in Ohio
I asked Jeffrey Broxmeyer, a professor of political science at the University of Toledo, about how the area has changed since Kaptur first took office. We had a long conversation about the hollowing out of Democrats in industrial areas.
National Democrats, Broxmeyer argued, have in recent years “rarely lifted a finger to help labor unions in districts like this. Well, the tables have turned,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine any route to success without organized labor pulling Kaptur over the line.”
Don’t underestimate a candidate like Majewski
Broxmeyer said Republicans in the state had specifically designed the new 9th District with a more traditional candidate in mind and never expected an unknown quantity like Majewski, who won the GOP nomination with 36% of the vote and an appeal to the “Make America Great Again” absolutists.
He argued Majewski could turn into a more formidable opponent for Kaptur and pointed to the recent success of lawmakers like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Turning point for Ohio Democrats
If Kaptur and a slate of also-experienced Democratic statewide candidates (Tim Ryan for Senate and Nan Whaley for governor) lose, Broxmeyer said it could equal the end of Democrats as a political force in the state.
“If Ohio Democrats get wiped out this November, they will no longer be a major party,” he said. “Just a random bunch of mayors. Ohio Democrats would join the history books alongside the Federalist party and the Whig party. Anybody ever heard of them?”
Confused outside Cleveland
Matt Lundy is the only Democrat remaining on the Lorain County Board of Commissioners after recent elections where Republicans saw gains.
Starting next year, the county – which had been split into three different congressional districts, including Kaptur’s – will be consolidated into the one currently represented by Latta.
Lundy told me he’s frustrated that the new congressional map, which is expected to yield up to 12 Republican seats of 15 total, does not match the partisan breakdown of the state.
“This has been going on in Ohio for quite some time and I think voters find it frustrating,” Lundy said, pointing out that because of court battles over local district maps there will be a second round of primaries, for state legislative districts, likely in August.