With primary elections coming soon, some wonder if they’re worth it

Voting turnout in special elections and non-presidential years typically low. This year’s primary election, which will nominate partisan candidates for the general election in November, is on May 8. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE

Combined ShapeCaption
Voting turnout in special elections and non-presidential years typically low. This year’s primary election, which will nominate partisan candidates for the general election in November, is on May 8. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE

Feb. 7 is the filing deadline for the 2018 primary elections, and both Butler County Republicans and Democrats will have choices to make.

There are potentially four GOP primary races in which voters will decide who will run for election in November. There’s only one contested primary race on the Democratic Party side.

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On the Republican side:

  • Four likely Republicans — Matthew Taggart, Greg Jolivette, David T. Davidson and Sara Carruthers — are considering a challenge of incumbent Ohio Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, for his 51st Ohio House District seat.
  • Just one primary challenger — Roshawn Lavelle Jenkins — has pulled petitions to challenge incumbent Ohio Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, for her 53rd Ohio House District seat.
  • West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong is also challenging Butler County Commissioner Cindy Carpenter.
  • Congressman Warren Davidson, of Troy, may have a challenger in Zach Smith, of Trenton.

On the Democratic Party side, the only primary challenge will be a four-way race for Ohio's 8th Congressional District seat: William Ebben, of West Chester Twp.; Morton Meier, of Hamilton; Vanessa Enoch, of West Chester Twp.; and Ted Jones, of Piqua.

In most cases in Butler County, incumbent candidates go uncontested in a primary election. There are about several dozen Butler County-specific primaries set for the May 8 primary for Republicans and Democrats.

“Contested primaries are a source of vitality,” said University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven. He said such races are when “new voices” and “new activists” are born.

“In strong party counties, primaries help keep the party responsive. There are some wasted dollars and some hurt feelings, but the party comes out ahead in the end,” he said. “In competitive counties, on the other hand, primaries really do represent the loss of vital resources and a threat to November success.”

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Political parties, however, don’t want to see a contested primary, said Xavier University political science professor Mack Mariani.

In contested primaries, candidates spend a lot of political capital and campaign finances on a partisan opponent and will have to rebuild that momentum for a run in the general election in November.

But he said “primaries are valuable” because they allow candidates to be vetted, and the strongest candidate, in theory, advances to the general election. With primaries, you can avoid sedning on an unexpectedly weak candidate, or a candidate who has problems.

“You don’t want to find out your candidate is terrible on the campaign trail in November,” Mariani said.

“Vetting your candidates is critical. (Parties are) not going to investigate their own candidates, though, with the same enthusiasm as your (general election) opponents. The smart way is to investigate your candidate with the same amount of rigor (as a general election opponent).”

Miami University political science professor Christopher Kelley would like to see the primary system abandoned and political parties pick their own nominees.

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That would reduce the financial burden of the county and state, as taxpayers foot the bill for political parties to nominate a candidate for the general election, he said. In most cases, primary candidates run unopposed or against a weak opponent.

“And primaries have such low turnout, so you get the most extreme turnout and you have a lopsided result,” he said.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on elections each year in the county, and some of that could be saved without holding local and state race primaries.

However, Kelley said when parties did have control over their choice of nominees, “that meant minorities, women and working-class people rarely, or never in many cases, were selected by the party bosses to run (for office).”


Here are who’s considering a run for this year’s primary and general election races, as of Feb. 2:

8th Ohio House District Representative


Ohio Rep. Warren Davidson, of Troy

Zach Smith, of Trenton


William Ebben, of West Chester Twp.

Morton Meier, of Hamilton

Vanessa Enoch, of West Chester Twp.

Ted Jones, of Piqua

51st Ohio House


Ohio Rep. Wes Retherford, of Hamilton

Matthew Taggart, of Hamilton

Greg Jolivette, of Hamilton

Sara Carruthers, of Hamilton

David Davidson, of Hamilton


Susan Vaughn, of Hamilton

52nd Ohio House


Ohio Rep. George Lang, of West Chester Twp.


Kathy Wyenandt, of Liberty Twp.

53rd Ohio House


Ohio Rep. Candice Keller, of Middletown

Roshawn Lavelle Jenkins, of Monroe

Butler County Commissioner


Butler County Commissioner Cindy Carpenter, of Oxford

West Chester Twp. Trustee Lee Wong, of West Chester


NAACP Middletown President Dora Bronston, of Middletown

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