Latest News

House Republicans land last-minute Ohio recruit for key House race

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

House Republicans may have found a way to salvage their flailing prospects in a crucial swing seat.

A heavy last-ditch recruitment effort from House Republican leaders pushed Ohio state Rep. Derek Merrin to jump into a chaotic primary for a Toledo-based district just before the state’s Wednesday filing deadline. The GOP was left reeling last week when their preferred candidate, Craig Riedel, was caught on tape bashing former President Donald Trump, setting off a mad dash to find a new recruit to beat veteran Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

But the plan is risky. The GOP is worried about a repeat of last year, when J.R. Majewski won the primary but lost to Kaptur. Riedel is remaining in the race, raising the real risk that he and Merrin split the anti-Majewski vote, opening up a path for him to take the nomination again.

Republicans had been banking on Riedel to block Majewski in the March primary. Majewski lost the race by 13 points last cycle after a news report indicated he misrepresented his military service in Afghanistan, and top Republicans believe Majewski would lose again to the incumbent.

Controversial recruits very likely cost House Republicans from winning a bigger majority in 2022, and they are determined not to let that happen again in 2024. Kaptur is one of just five Democrats in a district that Trump won in 2020, and Republicans consider her extremely vulnerable. But the audio leak left them worried about Riedel’s ability to win a primary.

So top House Republicans launched a behind-the-scenes campaign to woo Merrin, a mayor-turned-state legislator who nearly became speaker of the Ohio House earlier this year. The Toledo Blade first reported Merrin’s entrance into the race Wednesday.

Speaker Mike Johnson called Merrin to urge him to run, according to two people familiar with the conversation. National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) and Dan Conston, the president of the Johnson-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, also encouraged him. The general pitch: This is one of the most winnable seats in the country if we can stop Majewski from winning the primary.

Their efforts paid off Wednesday. But the battle is just beginning.

Riedel will stay in the race, according to his campaign, and the possibility that Majewski could win the primary with a plurality isn’t just hypothetical: It’s precisely what happened in 2022, when Riedel and a third candidate similarly tried to block Majewski from the nomination but ended up splitting the vote instead.

“We’re very confident we are going to win the primary,” said Mark Harris, a spokesperson for Riedel. “The more they encourage other people to run, the beneficiary of that is likely to be Majewski.”

Harris said no one from House leadership or the House GOP campaign arm asked Riedel to get out of the race.

Riedel had more than $500,000 banked by the end of September for the primary, and he’s already gone negative. Last week, he launched a TV ad in West Palm Beach — almost certainly aimed at trying to earn a Trump endorsement — accusing Majewski of calling the former president “an idiot” in a private message.

But Merrin is likely to garner the support of party leaders in D.C. who can funnel money and support his bid. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the largest House GOP super PAC, has identified the district as one of its top targets and is prepared to play in GOP primaries in key swing seats. Now Merrin will have to move quickly to fundraise and get a campaign off the ground.

Merrin’s state legislative district, to which he was appointed in 2016, overlaps with some of the congressional district, so he already knows some of the voters. His profile rose last year when the state House GOP chose him as their nominee for speaker, though he was denied the post when Democrats joined with some Republican members to elect a different leader. Merrin is term-limited in the state House and cannot seek reelection in 2024.

Kaptur, the Democratic incumbent, was first elected in 1982. Her seat became much more competitive during the decennial redistricting.

Olivia Beavers contributed to this report.