Franklin County GOP Quells Primaries

Powerful early endorsement process takes place Wednesday

By John Corrigan


(COLUMBUS) In the course of modern political history since the 1960’s, a handful of people who were not endorsed by the Franklin County Republican Party went on to win Republican primaries in the state’s most populous county.  Two out of literally thousands of races. Yeah, the endorsement means that much to Central Ohio voters as a guideline.

On Wednesday December 6, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. the party Central Committee will meet at the Athletic Club of Columbus for the 2018 endorsement process.  Central Committee Members are elected by Republican Primary voters every four years tend to be the most loyal of partisans. Comprised of publicly spirited Republican voters as well as elected officials, government employees, dedicated campaign workers, people who help fund elections, the Central Committee functions as a steering committee of a who’s who of county politics.

Candidates who come to the meeting preaching that they will “drain the swamp” will be greeted by a room of people who can collectively say, “We ARE the Swamp.”  And they are pretty proud of it in the days before being a swamp dweller was construed as a bad thing by some.  Not by the Central Committee.

At stake at Wednesday’s meeting are endorsements for Governor and Lt. Governor, Statewide Administrative and County Administrative races, U.S. Senator, U.S. House of Representatives, and Statehouse races for the House and Senate including the important open seats. In an increasingly competitive Franklin County political environment that has been bluer and bluer every year, the strength of the party has returned Republican majorities to the Statehouse in very well engineered legislative districts.  The Swamp does not use the word “gerrymandered” to describe them, the GOP-leaning districts are true reflections of the will of the people.

To help the Central Committee with its decision making, Executive Committee Chairman Doug Preisse and Central Committee Chairman Brad Sinnott appoints a Screening Committee to meet with each candidate, and then vote to make a recommendation to the main body of assembled Committee people on Wednesday of who the best candidate for each contested position would be from the party’s perspective.

The Screening Committee is made up of activists and loyalists who understand how to run and win elections.  Their job is to find the best possible candidates who in theory are best positioned to win, can raise the requisite funds for victory, tout the party line (or as close to it as can be allowed by their constituency), recruit volunteers, and cull votes to carry the GOP banner.  

Franklin County breaks down its process into three separate endorsements each with a different committee that screens candidates. Administrative, Legislative, and Judicial. This year’s rendition saw the most interest in its Legislative Committee work.

Party Executive Director Josh Jaffe has informed party regulars that the following candidates and races are being recommended by the Legislative Screening Committee to the main Central Committee for Legislative Races includes:  

US Senate: Josh Mandel

US House of Representatives, 15th District: Steve Stivers

Ohio Senate, 3rd District:  Anne Gonzales

Ohio Senate, 15th District:  Jordan Garcea

Ohio Senate, 19th District:  Andrew Brenner

Ohio House, 17th District:  John Rush

Ohio House, 18th District:  David Todd

Ohio House, 19th District:  Tim Barhorst

Ohio House, 20th District:  Bobby Mitchell

Ohio House, 21st District:  Stu Harris

Ohio House, 23rd District:  Laura Lanese

Ohio House, 24th District:  Erik Yassenoff

Ohio House, 26th District:  Shareeque Sadiq

For Governor, the Administrative Committee is suggesting the candidacy of Mike DeWine and Jon Husted for Lt. Governor.  Incumbent and party slotted candidates like Auditor Candidate State Representative Keith Faber (R-Celina) are also recommended as are the candidacies of Frank LaRose for Secretary of State, Dave Yost for Attorney General, and State Representative Robert Sprague (R-Findlay) for Treasurer. Local incumbents and some new comers are being suggested for endorsement in Franklin County races from the Administration Building to the Courthouse.

Mechanically, the Screening Committee moves the recommendations of the suggested candidates to endorse.  The Central Committee can accept each candidate, or in a floor fight, can try to substitute another candidate.  Members have privileges to make motions and suggest their own candidate, if that candidate was not selected by the Screening Committee. For example, supporters of Mike Gibbons can move to strike the name of Josh Mandel as endorsed candidate for U.S. Senate by motion. Debate would ensue and the committee would have an up or down vote on the motion.  These meetings can get raucus, but Chairman Preisse has had a firm hand to assure that they remain civil and business like.

This year’s Legislative Screening Committee was made up of Chairman Larry Flowers, Vice Chair Alicia Healy, Matt Carle, Ruth McNeal, Mike Carpenter, Cornell Robinson, Lynne Crow, and Ginni Ragan.

If history is an indicator, the endorsed candidates have a very strong chance of prevailing in the May, 2018 primary. So why endorse candidates for office six months in advance and two months before the filing deadline?  Political parties hate primaries and use their endorsement power to pre-select candidates or protect incumbent officeholders. They wish to discourage a primary and allow their candidates to focus on fundraising, organization building, and volunteer recruitment while concentrating on the November election, not the primary.  

Wednesday’s endorsement meeting promises sparks for the state legislative races as well as U.S. Senate, with many open seats being looked at by multiple candidates. With an endorsement, a candidate can tout their party support to the donor community and access party resources for election that non-endorsed candidates cannot.  Franklin County’s Finance Committee Members seldom provide financial resources in any quantity to non-endorsed candidates, making Wednesday a make or break day for aspiring Republican candidates.  

No party in Ohio has had the same success as Franklin’s in endorsement success, going back to the early days of Mike Colley’s Chairmanship and JoAnn Davidson’s influence. Preisse and Central Committee Chairman Sinnott continue to successfully use party resources to win primaries, even as the county has gotten bluer in general elections. Their ability to continue to provide a majority of Republicans at the Statehouse for the delegation makes the Franklin County GOP a bigger player on the state level.