Ohio House Races: What to Watch For

Ohio voters are set to offer small, early hints about the direction of the Democratic and Republican Parties leading up to the 2022 midterms, as voters in two congressional districts head to the polls on Tuesday to decide primary races for a pair of House special elections.

One race, in a deep-blue district in the Cleveland area, is pitting a progressive Democrat against an establishment-backed candidate. The other, in a solidly red district near Columbus, includes a broad field of Republican contenders, including one endorsed by former President Donald J. Trump.

Polls close at 7:30 p.m. Eastern; you’ll be able to see the results and our coverage of the winner at nytimes.com. Here’s what we’re watching for.

Who will emerge on top on the Democratic side?

In the Democratic race near Cleveland, Nina Turner, a former state senator, is facing off against Shontel Brown, the chairwoman of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. They are vying to replace Marcia Fudge, who held the seat in the 11th Congressional District until her confirmation as President Biden’s secretary of housing and urban development.

Ms. Turner, who was a high-profile surrogate for Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaigns, has been lifted by support from Mr. Sanders, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and other progressive leaders.

But Ms. Brown has drawn the endorsements of Hillary Clinton, Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and other party leaders.

In recent weeks, the race has become increasingly bitter and outside money has flowed in to support both candidates. Essentially, it has become the latest proxy war between the Democratic Party’s activist left flank and its leadership in Washington.

What could the outcome tell us about Democrats’ mood?

First, a caveat: It is always risky to read too much into the result of a single House race, especially a primary for a special election. Voter turnout is typically low, making it difficult to extrapolate broader trends about the electorate.

But who wins, and her margin of victory, could tell us a little about what Democratic voters are thinking as the party tries to capitalize on its narrow control of Washington and prepares for a tough 2022 midterms challenge.

If Ms. Turner wins, especially if she does so with ease, it would be a sign that the upstart progressive energy that propelled Mr. Sanders’s two presidential campaigns is not fading, as the movement seeks new national leaders to gradually succeed the 79-year-old Mr. Sanders. And it would most likely send to Congress another high-profile advocate for the left’s biggest priorities, like universal health care and far-reaching climate action.

If Ms. Brown wins, particularly if she does so by a large margin, it would signal that Democratic voters prefer a candidate more in line with the party’s standard-bearers in Washington, and are wary about electing someone with a history of criticizing those leaders. Or, as Sean McElwee, the executive director of the polling firm Data for Progress, put it, it would suggest that Democratic voters “are interested in voting for the person who’s going to go to work and they’re not going to have to think about ever again.”

In the other race, which Republican will win?

In the Republican race near Columbus, a crowded field of Republicans is vying to upset Mike Carey, an energy lobbyist who was endorsed by Mr. Trump. He was largely unknown until the former president threw his support behind Mr. Carey in early June and all but ensured that he would be the front-runner.

But the race is fluid, with more than 10 candidates running for the Republican nomination. Some of Mr. Carey’s rivals also have more established reputations in the district, the 15th Congressional, as well as the backing of prominent allies of Mr. Trump.

These rivals include Bob Peterson, a state senator who also operates a 2,700-acre grain farm and has the support of Ohio Right to Life, the state’s leading anti-abortion group. There is also Ruth Edmonds, who has a following among Christian conservatives and the endorsements of Ken Blackwell, a prominent conservative activist and Trump ally, and Debbie Meadows, an activist and the wife of Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s last White House chief of staff.

Will Trump’s endorsement carry the day?

If Mr. Carey does not win, it would be another sign that Mr. Trump’s endorsement doesn’t carry quite the weight that he and his allies insist it does.

Mr. Trump and his allied political groups are hoping to avoid another loss after the defeat last week of a House candidate in Texas whom the former president had backed. In that race, State Representative Jake Ellzey beat Susan Wright, the widow of Representative Ron Wright, who held the seat until he died in February after battling lung cancer and being hospitalized for Covid-19.

“The question is, ‘What does a Trump endorsement mean?’” said Aaron Baer, the president of the Center for Christian Virtue, a Columbus-based conservative advocacy group. “Typically, people would say it means a lot,” he added, with the caveats that the candidates are largely undistinguishable on the issues and that some of Mr. Carey’s rivals have also won endorsements from Trump allies.

“When you have a number of people in the race with solid conservative credentials, and Trump world is spreading out its endorsements, it’s really anyone’s game,” Mr. Baer said.

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