Anti-establishment candidates could have edge in crowded field

20 candidates vying for Ohio’s 8th Congressional District seat

Ohio’s 8th Congressional District race will be an important one to watch, but attention outside of local media won’t be heightened until the March 15 general and special primaries approach.

For the first time in a quarter century, voters in the six-county congressional district will elect a new congressman as former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner stepped down at the end of October in the middle of his 13th term.

Since then, a flurry of people have said they want the seat — some well-known names, such as Bill Beagle, a Republican state senator from Tipp City, Tim Derickson, a state representative from Butler County, and Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, and some unknowns, such as Butler County American history teacher Eric Haemmerle and Miami County businessman Scott George.

Then you have some candidates people may or may not have heard about, such as J.D. Winteregg, of Troy, and Eric Gurr, of Butler County, both men who ran against Boehner in the May 2014 primary.

But there are a host of people vying for the congressional seat after Boehner stepped down with more than a year left on his term. When the next congressman is seated, about six months will be remaining.

Political experts say this race will likely go to the candidates who have political chops, backing and financing.

“Yes, it is true that in traditional races, we expect the experienced politicians, who have long developed relationships and know how to raise money, to do well,” Mark C. Smith, political science professor at Cedarville University. “In that way, most people probably have little chance.”

But a closer look at the race, there may be some nuances that would allow for an anti-establishment candidate or even a political novice to garner some traction, which the country is seeing with the Republican side of the presidential race.

There are around 20 candidates who have shown some level of interest in the 8th Congressional District seat, and many more who thought about running but decided against it. All candidates must file twice, one for the special primary to complete the 2015-2016 term and one for the general primary for the full term commencing in 2017.

The special and general primary races will be on March 15, and the Republican and Democratic winners of the special primary will face third party candidates in the special general election on June 7. The general primary winners will face third party candidates in the Nov. 8 general election for the full term.

Smith said the seat is drawing so many potential candidates because open-seat elections draw the most interest as they represent the best chance to win.

“In this sense, it is not all that surprising that a load of people might declare for this contest,” Smith said of the 20-candidate field, of which the lion’s share are Butler County Republicans.

But how does a candidate separate his or herself from this crowded field?

The biggest factor is name recognition, said Dan Birdsong, a political science professor at the University of Dayton. That bodes well for Beagle and Derickson, but more so probably for Beagle since he represents four counties in the state’s 5th Senate District, said Birdsong. Three of the counties are within the 8th Congressional District.

While Beagle will be campaigning in all six counties — all of Butler, Clark, Darke, Miami and Preble and southern Mercer counties — he’ll spend most of his time where he is unknown, which is in Butler County.

Though Derickson and Reynolds are known commodities in Butler County, they will need to get their names out in the other counties of the district.

This is especially true if both stay in the race — each has a strong Butler County base and would likely split the vote there, which is the district’s largest county and voting population.

“With so many candidates, and if it stays such a crowded field, you don’t have to have that many supporting you to win this particular election because it’s by plurality,” Birdsong said.

Because of the “anti-establishment” candidates in the Republican presidential race are polling high, that could bode well for an “anti-establishment” candidate for this congressional race, said Smith and Birdsong.

That would include candidates like Winteregg, who was backed by the tea party in 2014, though he may not get the full backing this go around with other candidates who support tea party ideals in the field. It also could mean an unknown candidate could emerge, said Smith.

“Anti-establishment fervor is high, so experience could actually hurt candidates in the eyes of some voters,” he said. “This may be the best time for a fire-breathing, anti-establishment candidate to make a statement, but only if they can make themselves known. Can an amateur get enough attention to get their message out? That might be the real question.”

But a predictor of who can win this race is the candidate’s organization, said Birdsong.

“You can tell how organized or serious a candidate is by taking a look at their online presence,” he said about websites and social media platforms. “With a robust online presence, a very well-organized campaign means it’s easier to connect people, they can connect people more quickly.”

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