Illinois, Ohio Voters Head to the Polls for Consequential Primaries

Illinois, Ohio Voters Head to the Polls for Consequential Primaries
A polling place at Chagrin Falls High School in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, on March 19, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

CHICAGO/CLEVELAND—Ohio and Illinois voters could determine the makeup of Congress next year as they head to the polls on March 19.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), who has been in Congress for 27 years, shared a few words with The Epoch Times about the criticism he’s taken over his age.

“Poppycock,” the 82-year-old said. “I do more in one week than any of my opponents could do in six months.”

Mr. Davis is facing a primary challenge in Illinois’s 7th Congressional District from multiple comers, including gun violence activist Kina Collins, who came within 5,000 votes of defeating him in the 2022 Democratic primary. He’s also facing Chicago Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin, who previously served in the Illinois House of Representatives.

The longtime congressman told The Epoch Times he doesn’t believe the former lawmaker and current city official was “qualified in the first place” for his seat, adding, “I don’t know anything she’s done legislatively.”

“If the mayor [Brandon Johnson] thought I was bad for Illinois, the mayor wouldn’t be supporting me. If the governor [JB Pritzker] thought I was not good for Illinois, the governor wouldn’t be supporting me,” Mr. Davis said, referring to endorsements he received from the two power players ahead of the March 19 Democrat primary.

NTD Photo
President Joe Biden talks with Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), as Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) watches after the State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 7, 2023. (Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Other key races in the Land of Lincoln include the 6th Congressional District’s Democratic primary, which pits incumbent Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) against Nicor Gas operations technician Charles Hughes and public health administrator Mahnoor Ahmad.

Part of the backdrop: internal Democratic fighting over the Israel-Hamas war. Ms. Ahmad is calling for a ceasefire.

The Republican primary in the 17th Congressional District could also prove important. The district, currently led by first-term incumbent Rep. Eric Sorensen (D-Ill.), stands a chance of being competitive in the general election.

Retired Judge Joe McGraw, the big leader in endorsements, is squaring off against farmer and past American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees leader Scott Crowl.

Finally, the GOP primary in the 12th Congressional District is a battle between incumbent Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.) and former state senator Darren Bailey, who lost to Mr. Pritzker in the 2022 gubernatorial election.

MAGA stalwarts are divided on who to endorse in the race.

Mr. Bailey’s supporters include Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), while Mr. Bost is backed by former President Donald Trump, who Mr. Gaetz staunchly supports.

NTD Photo
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump greets Ohio Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Bernie Moreno (L) during a rally at the Dayton International Airport in Vandalia, Ohio, on March 16, 2024. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Ohio Shapes Up to Matter

With President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings amid questions about his mental fitness and a sluggish economy, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is trying to distance himself from his party’s leader in an increasingly red state that President Trump won by eight points in 2016 and 2020.

Businessman Bernie Moreno, state Sen. Matt Dolan, and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose are vying for the GOP nomination to unseat Mr. Brown, who was first elected to the Senate in 2007.

Mr. Moreno secured President Trump’s endorsement last December.

Mr. Dolan has secured a different set of endorsements. Last week, apparently propelled by endorsements from Mr. DeWine and Mr. Portman, Mr. Dolan ascended to first in an Emerson College poll (26 percent) over Mr. Moreno (23 percent) and Mr. LaRose (16 percent), with 32 percent reporting they are undecided.

Mike DeWine, Ohio’s Republican governor who was re-elected to a second term in 2022, is considered a moderate by many Ohio conservative elected officials and voters. Rob Portman, the Republican senator who chose to not seek another term in 2022 leading to Trump-backed J.D. Vance’s victory, has a similar reputation.

To bolster Mr. Moreno, President Trump and a group of allies that included Mr. Vance, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, spoke at a rally for Mr. Moreno in suburban Dayton.

The move could be responsible for a shift recorded in a new Emerson College survey released on March 18. It shows Mr. Moreno back in the lead (38 percent), followed by Mr. Dolan (29 percent) and Mr. LaRose (12 percent), while 21 percent said they are undecided.

When those voters are asked which candidate they favor, Mr. Moreno’s backing increases to 44 percent, Mr. Dolan’s to 40 percent, and Mr. LaRose’s to 16 percent.

Millions of dollars in money from outside Ohio have poured into the GOP Senate primary.

Last week, a super PAC linked to Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) purchased $2.7 million in ad buys. The strategy was seen by Mr. Moreno’s Republican rivals as a move to elevate a Trump-backed candidate they consider more easily beatable in the general election.

“[Mr. Schumer] knows Bernie’s background makes him the weakest candidate to face Sherrod Brown. The more Ohioans learn about Moreno, the less they trust him,” Mr. LaRose wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

NTD Photo
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), delivers remarks during a hearing on Russian sanctions on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 20, 2022. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Ohio Candidates

A Cleveland area entrepreneur who built his wealth as a luxury car dealer and the founder of a blockchain technology company, Mr. Moreno “legally entered the United States” with his family from Colombia when he was five and became an American citizen when he was 18.

Border security is a key part of Mr. Moreno’s platform. He supports President Trump’s belief there should be a mass deportation of illegal immigrants and construction should be continued at the border wall, which was halted by President Biden.

Mr. LaRose, 43, was an Ohio state senator for eight years before taking office as secretary of state in 2019. The U.S. Army veteran was a member of the Green Berets and is now in the U.S. Army Reserve.

President Trump endorsed Mr. LaRose’s reelection bid for Ohio secretary of state in 2022.

Mr. LaRose told reporters that he believed that the former president would remain neutral in the 2024 GOP Senate primary.

But a few days later, President Trump declared his support for Mr. Moreno.

When asked about President Trump’s backing of Mr. Moreno at a recent campaign stop, Mr. LaRose said, “I can tell you this. Most voters don’t make their decision based on endorsements.”

He said that he “will be his [President Trump’s] best ally in the Senate.”

“I’m the one that can beat Brown, and I will stand with President Trump,” Mr. LaRose added.

NTD Photo
Frank LaRose, Ohio Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, speaks during an interview with The Epoch Times at an event ahead of the primary at Bender’s Farm in Copley, Ohio, on March 18, 2024. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)

On March 20, Mr. LaRose continued, there will be “no hard feelings that he made the wrong choice in who he endorsed in this race.”

Mr. LaRose traveled around southern Ohio and returned to his hometown area for an evening rally at Bender’s Farm in Copley, located in northeast Ohio on March 18. His election night watch party will be held in Columbus.

On March 18, Mr. Dolan talked to supporters at a meet and greet in suburban Columbus and planned to make multiple campaign stops in central Ohio before spending Election Day at destinations across the Cleveland area, culminating in a watch party in Independence—a half-hour away from where Mr. Moreno is gathering to view election results with supporters in Westlake.

In 2022, Mr. Dolan finished third behind Mr. Vance and former state legislator Josh Mandel in the GOP Senate primary. This election cycle, he told The Epoch Times, more Ohioans know about his “conservative record” and “understand that this guy gets something done.”

Mr. Dolan was the only person in a crowded field of eight candidates in 2022 who did not want or covet President Trump’s endorsement. He believes he is best suited to oppose Mr. Brown because he can appeal to conservatives, moderates, and disenfranchised Democrats.

“I can beat Sherrod Brown. He has voted with Joe Biden 98 percent of the time, yet Ohioans are paying more than $11,000 per family for household goods … we used to be energy independent, the border is wide open, and fentanyl deaths and human trafficking in Ohio is up. I think he’s gonna have a hard time running with Joe Biden,” Mr. Dolan said of Mr. Brown.

Ohio has an open primary, and speculation is mounting that Mr. Dolan could draw support from moderate Democrats who are displeased with Mr. Brown’s record of supporting President Biden.

Candidates’ Supporters Speak

The perception of where Mr. Dolan stands as a Republican depends on the source across Ohio and nationwide.

In a letter announcing their backing of Mr. Dolan for the Senate, Mr. DeWine and his wife, Fran, wrote, “We believe this proven conservative is the strongest candidate to beat Sherrod Brown in the fall.”

NTD Photo
(L–R) Ohio State Sen. Matt Dolan speaks with a local television station in Cleveland on April 28, 2022; entrepreneur Bernie Moreno kicks off his campaign in suburban Cincinnati on April 18, 2023; and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose attends a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on July 12, 2023. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Courtesy of Everitt Townsend)

Ray Welty is a retired college administrator who cast his vote for Mr. Dolan. On March 18, he joined a small group of Dolan supporters at a meet-and-greet in the living room of a suburban Columbus home.

“He thinks for himself [and] is true to his values. Democrats already know who they are going to vote for in their primary: Sherrod Brown. Moderate Democrats who are concerned Brown will not win, is there a reasonable person on the other side we want to see in that chair?”

Mark Pukita, who ran against Mr. Dolan and Mr. Moreno in the 2022 GOP Senate primary, is an entrepreneur retired from the corporate world who now works as a conservative activist. He has endorsed Mr. Moreno.

“Matt Dolan, for all intents and purposes, is a Democrat who hasn’t come out of the closet,” he told The Epoch Times.

Guardians and Indians

Before being elected as a state senator in 2017, Mr. Dolan served as a state representative from 2005 to 2010. His family owns the Cleveland Guardians, the Major League Baseball franchise that was known as the Cleveland Indians for decades before they changed the name in 2021 amid concerns that it was offensive to Native Americans.

At the March 16 rally, President Trump chastised the Dolan family for the name change.

Larry Dolan, Mr. Dolan’s father, is the team’s principal owner. Paul Dolan, Mr. Dolan’s brother, serves as CEO. Mr. Dolan has worked closely with the team over the years.

“He’s easily pushed around by woke left-wing lunatics who renamed his family’s baseball team. My attitude is anybody who changes the name from the Cleveland Indians to the Cleveland Guardians should not be a senator,” said President Trump, who surveyed the crowd about their preference for the franchise’s name. The “Indians” elicited rousing applause.

Mr. Dolan has praised President Trump’s policies, including his views on the border crisis.

“I’m supporting President Trump to be our nominee because I support Trump Republican policies,” he said.

“His personality? It’s not me. His political style? It’s not me. But his policies that make your life better, that make America stronger, that will make Ohio stronger? That is me.”

Regarding criticism from President Trump and his MAGA allies that he is not conservative, Mr. Dolan told The Epoch Times that he is the only candidate in the GOP primary “who can point to conservative results, including less taxes, less regulations, and Universal School Choice.” Abortion has “gone down 37 percent” during Mr. Dolan’s time in the state senate, he added.

“My opponents are reinventing themselves. People are starting to realize that I’ve never said you’re gonna like everything I’ve done. But if you look at my body of work, I get things done. I don’t just shout about it,” Mr. Dolan explained.

“The irony of it all is my record reflects President Trump’s record. He cut taxes, I cut taxes. He reduced regulations, I reduced regulations. He supports law enforcement, I support law enforcement. I’m the only one that can really say I’ve done what Trump has done.”

If elected, Mr. Moreno vows to serve in the Senate for no more than two terms, or 12 years. After leaving the 2022 Senate race, Mr. Moreno was named Ohio State Chair for U.S. Term Limits.

Brown Eyeing Fourth Term

NTD Photo
Bernie Moreno talks to a supporter after announcing his candidacy for the Ohio U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Sherrod Brown. (Melissa Townsend)

Mr. Brown served in the Ohio Legislature from 1974 to 1982 before becoming Ohio’s Secretary of State. In 1992, he was elected to Congress as a U.S. Representative. In 2006, he defeated current Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine to begin his tenure in the Senate. He is seeking his fourth term in that chamber in 2024.

“Imagine that his entire adult life, he’s only collected a taxpayer-funded paycheck. He’s never once had to wonder where his next meal was gonna come from,” Mr. Moreno said.

“Who do you think said the following words in 1992 when I was just about finishing college? ‘If you’ve been in Washington, DC for more than 10 years, you’re a crook.’ Sherrod Brown said that, so at least one time, he has been right.”

The Cook Political Report rates the Ohio 2024 U.S. Senate race as a toss-up. Mr. Brown remains confident.

Competitive Seats

Meanwhile, the two major congressional races in Ohio are in the state’s ninth and 13th Congressional Districts.

Republicans running in the 9th Congressional District to face 21-term Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) are real estate owner and former mayor of Napoleon, Ohio, Steve Lankenau; state Rep. Derek Merrin; and former state Rep. Craig Riedel.

Ms. Kaptur has been in the House since 1983 and is the longest-serving female member of Congress ever.

J.R. Majewski, who was the 2022 GOP nominee in the district, lost in 2022 to the 77-year-old Ms. Kaptur, 56.6 percent to 43.4 percent—likely in part because of an Associated Press report alleging that he misinformed people about his military record.

In March, he announced the suspension of his 2024 campaign.

Mr. Riedel, 57, lost the support of House GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) after a recording came to light, courtesy of major Trump supporter Charlie Kirk’s radio show, in which Mr. Riedel said of President Trump: “I think he is arrogant. I don’t like the way he calls people names. I just don’t think that’s very becoming of a president.”

The original date of the audio recording is uncertain.

Nonetheless, Mr. Riedel has been endorsed by House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and Americans for Prosperity, the largest libertarian organization in the United States, funded by the billionaire Koch family.

In an interview with The Epoch Times on March 18, Mr. Merrin described Ms. Kaptur, who has been in Congress since 1983, as “completely out of step with the majority of folks in northwest Ohio.”

Mr. Merrin, 38, casts himself as anti-establishment. He has been endorsed by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), Mr. Majewski, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In an interview with The Epoch Times on March 17, Mr. Lankenau painted himself as a right-of-center outsider who is unafraid to go against his own party.

He called Mr. Riedel, Mr. Merrin, and Ms. Kaptur career politicians. He blasted his GOP opponents as “extreme.”

Meanwhile, Republicans in the other swing race—the 13th Congressional District—looking to take on Rep. Emilia Sykes (D-Ohio), a freshman congresswoman, are U.S. Marine veteran and businessman Chris Banweg, former state Sen. Kevin Coughlin, and imaging technician Richard Morckel, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 2016 and 2020.

Mr. Banweg has been endorsed by Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Mr. Coughlin, 53, has been backed by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio)—another split in the endorsement from staunch Trump supporters.

From The Epoch Times

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