The race to replace John Boehner in Congress appears to be wide open after the Butler County Republican Party did not endorse a candidate Tuesday night.
“If I were betting, I wouldn’t bet on any one candidate over another at this point,” said John Forren, a political science professor at Miami University Hamilton. “It’s too early to tell.”
Many political pundits believed that whoever won the Butler GOP’s endorsement would be the front-runner heading into the primary election. Butler is the largest county in the 8th Congressional District — which also includes Clark, Darke, Miami and Preble counties, and the southernmost portion of Mercer County — with more than half of its 723,000 residents living there.
Following the 1970 Census, all the district representatives who have served have come from Butler County.
Forren said the candidates from Butler County were probably hurt the most by the lack of an endorsement, even though such stamps of approval don’t mean as much as they did a half century ago.
“They would have gotten a boost. It would have gotten some news coverage” in the corners of the district where they have little to no name recognition, he said. “It (an endorsement) would have been helpful for Butler County to maintain a dominate position in the race … It’s a wide open race.”
Candidates claim victory despite no endorsement
Most of the seven candidates who attended Tuesday’s endorsement meeting at Tori’s Station in Fairfield were claiming victory afterward. And a crowded Republican field (16 candidates have either pulled or filed petitions) is expected to carry over into the new year as no one is considering dropping out of the race at this point.
Butler County Auditor Roger Reynolds, who narrowly missed the required 60 percent consensus to earn the endorsement, took stock in earning the highest percentage of votes at 59 percent. He called Tuesday night “a clear victory” for his campaign.
“I think the night was a clear victory given I beat my other opponents by a 20-percent margin,” Reynolds said. “As the votes went on, my numbers continued to get stronger and theirs continued to weaken.”
But Derickson, the next highest vote-getter, said no endorsement highlighted what he already knew: “This race is fluid and up for anyone to grab.” He considered it a victory because no one candidate is getting a boost because a minority of voters supports them.
“Endorsements are a factor that should determine support, not determine the party’s nominee,” Derickson said. “The election is in the hands of the people, not a chosen few. Had we won the endorsement, we would have campaigned just as hard to win this election as we already are.”
Kevin White, an airline pilot and former Navy and Air Force officer from New Carlisle, said more candidates are likely to remain in the race now that Butler County didn’t endorse, and that plays into his favor.
“The more candidates that are in the race, it will be more favorable for the unknown candidate rather than the known candidate, in general terms,” said White, who came in third place in the endorsement voting.
White said he can win in a crowded field if he gets his message in front of more voters and Tuesday night “gave me an opportunity to make my case.” He added the non-endorsement could have a favorable impact for Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City, despite a poor showing in the Butler County endorsement process.
Beagle received just two votes in the first round and dropped from endorsement consideration with George after the first round of voting.
“He could carry a large part of the northern part of the district, and theoretically if he did, and the vote was fractured in Butler County (between Derickson and Reynolds), then that could bode in his favor,” White acknowledged.
Beagle said he respects Tuesday’s decision, but “it hasn’t changed my strategy one bit.”
“My focus has been — and will continue to be — on speaking personally with the individuals and families across all five-and-a-half counties that make up the 8th district,” he said. “I am working tirelessly to earn the trust and support of constituents in Springfield, Piqua, Ft. Recovery, Greenville, Eaton, Fairfield and every city, town and village in between.”
J.D. Winteregg, of Miami County, had been an outspoken critic of the Butler County GOP’s endorsement process, saying that the party was trying to “stack the deck” in Reynolds favor by expanding its Executive Committee with his supporters just prior to the vote. He said the endorsement process had been “tainted by political shenanigans.”
The businessman and former high school teacher, who ran unsuccessfully against Boehner in the May 2014 primary, said while average voters have just as much of a voice and weight before the nomination process, “it can be argued that the voters of Butler County now have more power because we thwarted the establishment insiders’ attempts to manipulate the vote and abuse their power over the process.
“A formal endorsement would have been a huge leg up for any candidate … but it would have put an asterisk after the nominee’s name in the minds of many people,” Winteregg said.
Butler County is key battleground
Forren, of Miami University Hamilton, said Butler County will remain a key to electing the next representative of Ohio’s 8th Congressional District because that’s where the voter base is.
Todd Hall, the Butler County GOP executive chairman, said from his point of view the non-endorsement changes nothing.
“We still have two of the most qualified candidates in the race,” Hall said of Reynolds and Derickson. “Additionally, half of the likely voters in the primary election live in Butler County, so obviously Butler County Republicans will have a major impact on the outcome.”
Miami County businessman and candidate Scott George said every candidate knows Butler County is half the population and nearly half of the votes in the district. An endorsed candidate would have been on the slate card handed out to voters at the polls, and George said, “It’s proven that 90 percent of the people listed on the slate card wins an election.”
“If anything, it probably creates more (candidate) traffic (in Butler County),” he said. “If you’re going to win, you have to get a significant number of votes in that county.”
And that means understanding the issues of the county and being seen by voters, George said.
All the candidates agreed that whoever delivers the strongest message to the most people will likely win the election.
“This campaign is about uniting conservatives and taking on the Washington Machine,” Derickson said.
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