COLUMBUS — Democrats sought to defend their seats in the Ohio Legislature on Tuesday and keep Republicans from furthering their majorities in both chambers.
Democrats will have one of their biggest supporters back in the Statehouse next year. Chris Redfern, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party handedly won a House seat in northern Ohio, according to unofficial election results.
Ohioans were choosing all 99 House members, along with 18 of 33 state senators.
Republicans were hoping voters give them credit for keeping the state’s unemployment rate below the national average and forget about a contentious collective bargaining law that voters rejected at the polls last year.
It’s a longshot for Democrats to take control of the state Senate, where the GOP holds a 23-10 advantage.
One competitive Senate race features Democratic Sen. Lou Gentile of Steubenville, who’s trying to fend off Republican Shane Thompson of St. Clairsville to keep his seat in a Democratic-leaning district in eastern Ohio.
With 72 percent of precincts reporting, Gentile was leading with almost 52 percent of the vote.
Republicans’ majority in the House is slimmer, but still significant. The GOP has a 59-40 edge in the chamber.
Democrats want to hang onto enough seats there to keep their Republican counterparts from having the chance to override vetoes, place ballot issues before voters and more easily pull off legislative maneuvers.
If they keep the number of seats they have, the GOP would need only one additional seat to obtain more legislative power. Winning seven other seats would allow them to pass bills that could take effect sooner if Republican Gov. John Kasich signs them into law.
Democrats see a chance at winning several districts in central Ohio.
One race pits Democrat Donna O’Connor, a Dublin teacher, against Republican Rep. Mike Duffey of Worthington. Duffey had an edge in early returns.
Republicans are trying to pick up an open Democratic seat in Richland County, where Republican Mark Romanchuk, a business owner, faces Democrat Ellen Haring, a Mansfield city councilwoman. They’re also making a strong play for Democratic Rep. Roland Winburn’s seat that includes Preble County and parts of Montgomery County. Clayton Mayor Joyce Deitering is challenging Winburn, of Dayton.
Both sides are expecting a tight race in one northeast Ohio district, where the Republican incumbent won his seat in 2010 by just 42 votes. State Rep. Casey Kozlowski of Pierpont faces Democrat John Patterson, a teacher from Jefferson.
Kozlowski was behind in unofficial results.