None of Tuesday’s races will alter control of the House. All of them offered a look at party enthusiasm and the moods of suburban voters, who shifted toward Republicans in other races across the country on Tuesday.
“The Democratic position has deteriorated substantially since last year,” said Stive Stivers, who vacated Ohio’s 15th Congressional District to take over the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, on Tuesday’s special election. “You’ve had the debacle in Afghanistan, inflation, product shortages, and as a proxy for all of that, the fact that gas prices have skyrocketed.”
The race Carey won in the 15th Congressional District, which connects parts of heavily Democratic Columbus with increasingly Republican rural areas, is the only one Tuesday that saw considerable spending by both parties. Carey, the chairman and former president of the Ohio Coal Association, won a crowded Republican primary in August, helped by an endorsement from former president Donald Trump that became the focus of his paid advertising.
Carey is a longtime lobbyist and Republican operative whose advocacy for the coal industry frequently brought him to Washington. He won the 11-way primary with 37 percent of the vote, defeating a state legislator who had been endorsed by Stivers.
“I am very proud to have endorsed him early and strongly,” Trump said in a statement Tuesday after Carey’s victory.
Trump carried the district by 14 points in 2020, and Stivers won it by more. Democrats found a credible candidate for the special election: State Rep. Allison Russo, a health care consultant, flipped a suburban seat in the 2018 election and expanded her margin in 2020.
Russo raised more than $823,000 for the special election, less than Carey’s $1 million but enough to run a serious campaign. She emphasized her support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which Sen. Rob Portman (R) had taken the lead on, and attacked Carey’s role as a lobbyist for an energy company entangled in a corruption scandal that brought down the state House Speaker.
In the race’s final weeks, Carey ran an ad linking Russo to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as a “radical” Democrat who would weaken American and open the borders. He also rallied with Vice President Mike Pence, and the NRCC put resources behind that ad, which Democrats took as evidence that the race could be competitive. In an interview, Russo said she was frustrated with Democrats who’d delayed an infrastructure vote until the party’s Build Back Better package could pass, but was also critical of moderates who’d taken a prescription drug-pricing plan and paid family leave out of it.
“My opponent has been incredibly focused on boogeyman, divisive issues and people are tired of that,” Russo said. “They don’t want more of that in Washington.”
Carey declined to debate Russo, and his campaign did not make him available for an interview. He skipped an endorsement interview with the Columbus Dispatch, whose editorial board went on to back Russo. Republicans were confident of a win, and watching the margin in suburbs like Upper Arlington — which Russo represents — for clues about 2022.
Stivers said before Election Day that Carey had “kind of embraced Donald Trump a little too tightly to win big.” But with most votes counted, Carey was exceeding Trump’s 14-point margin by three points.
Biden officially endorsed Russo on Monday morning, days after he gave his endorsement in the other Ohio election — the special election in the 11th Congressional District, where Cuyahoga County Democratic chair Brown won easily. The Cleveland-based seat, which also includes much of Akron, was drawn to pack most of northeast Ohio’s Black voters into a single district.
Republican nominee Laverne Gore, who is also Black, captured just 20 percent of the vote in her 2020 run for the seat. Brown, who did not debate Gore, faces a potential challenge in 2022 if former state Sen. Nina Turner, who lost the August primary, seeks a rematch.
The winners in both Ohio races will join the House as soon as the results are certified, later this month. The primary in Florida’s 20th Congressional District will send nominees to a January special election where Democrats hold the advantage: Biden carried the seat, which covers majority-Black cities and suburbs in Broward and Palm Beach counties, by 55 points last year.
Biden did not endorse a candidate in the 11-way Democratic primary, where four Democrats dominated the spending race: Broward County Commissioners Dale Holness and Barbara Sharief, state Sen. Perry Thurston, and home care executive Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, who has largely self-funded her campaign. With every precinct reporting, Holness led Cherfilus-McCormick by just 78 votes, within the margin for an automatic recount.
National liberal groups largely stayed out of that race, and every candidate was critical of the Biden administration’s deportations of Haitians who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border this summer asking for asylum.
Democrats won a slim House majority in the 2020 elections. Victories for Brown and Carey leave the party with 221 seats to 212 seats for Republicans. The GOP is not seriously contesting the race in Florida’s 20th District, though the election’s timing, set by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), will have left the seat open for nine months after the death of Hastings — one of the lengthiest House vacancies in recent years.