Local Politics: Six races to watch in Franklin County

Rob Moore
Troy Balderson, left, and Danny O'Connor

Will we see a “blue wave” in Columbus?

Anyone who has lived here long enough will tell you that Franklin County used to be blood red. When Michael Coleman became mayor on the first day of the new millennium, he became the first Democratic Mayor of Columbus in 28 years and only the second since the Great Depression.

Everyone who has been here since then will tell you that Columbus has changed a lot in the past two decades. Democrats have held the mayor's office for the past eighteen years. Every current city councilmember is a registered Democrat. Democratic presidential candidates have grown their margins in the county steadily over the past two decades.

It's safe to say that Franklin County has turned blue.

So does this mean election 2018 is a snoozefest for Central Ohio? Of course not. Democrats have six major pickup opportunities that people should have their eyes on as national conditions give Franklin County a chance to become even bluer.

The grand prize is the 12th Congressional District, the race everyone has heard about between Democratic Franklin County Recorder Danny O'Connor and current Republican two-month Congressman Troy Balderson.

Balderson eked out a one-point win in an August special election to replace nine-term Republican Congressman Pat Tiberi in the sprawling red district that covers Delaware, Licking and Morrow counties along with arms stretching into Mansfield, Zanesville and northern Columbus.

In this month's rematch, online bettors and Nate Silver give Balderson the edge, but this race is still very much in play for the Democrats.

A race that has flown under the radar but would also be a big win for Democrats is the race for Franklin County Auditor. Incumbent Clarence Mingo is one of three countywide Republican officeholders and is being challenged by Columbus City Councilmember Michael Stinziano.

Another big opportunity for Democrats is in Ohio Senate District 3, which covers Westerville, Gahanna, Groveport and the Hilltop. Republican Rep. Anne Gonzales faces off in the open-seat race against Democrat Tina Maharath, a political newcomer who has come under scrutiny for a teenage hit-and-run incident that left a bicyclist dead.

Even though the Franklin County Democratic Party endorsed write-in candidate Katherine Chipps over Maharath in the primary, Hillary Clinton won Ohio Senate District 3 by 11 points in 2016, so Democrats still have a chance to pick up this previously Republican district.

A trifecta of Republican-held Franklin County Ohio House districts are situated similarly.

House District 19, which covers New Albany, Westerville and Gahanna, pits Democratic teacher Mary Lightbody against Republican insurance agent Tim Barhorst. Clinton won this district by nine points in 2016.

House District 21, centered in Dublin, broke for Clinton by 14 points in 2016. In this open race, Democratic doctor Beth Liston takes on Republican Dublin School Board member Stu Harris.

House District 24, which covers Hilliard, Upper Arlington and southwest Franklin County, gave Clinton an 11-point margin in 2016. Here, Democratic health analyst Allison Russo takes on Republican former Upper Arlington City Councilmember Erik Yassenoff.

Keep your eyes on these six races. If a blue wave sweeps the nation, Franklin County might be getting a bit bluer with it.