OH-12: Tiberi Departure Doesn't Change Solid R Rating (For Now)

AWalter Head
October 20, 2017

On Thursday, GOP Rep. Pat Tiberi announced he was leaving the seat he’s held for the last sixteen years to take the job as president of the Ohio Business Roundtable. In a statement, Tiberi said that while he hasn’t yet set a final resignation date, he "will be leaving Congress by January 31, 2018."

The good news for Republicans: this is a pretty solidly Republican district and as such a serious stretch for Democrats to pick off. The bad news: he’s the latest in a string of reliable leadership allies such as Dave Reichert (WA-08), Charlie Dent (PA-08) and Dave Trott (MI-11) to call it quits this year. Even if Republicans ultimately retain control of these seats in 2018, there’s no guarantee that the newly elected incumbents will be team players as Tiberi and these others have been, making Speaker Paul Ryan’s already tough job of wrangling votes even tougher.

The 12th district of Ohio takes in the suburbs and exurbs of Columbus. Back in 2000, when Tiberi was first elected, this was a competitive swing seat. Though Tiberi easily won re-election, GOP presidential nominees struggled. In 2004, George W. Bush narrowly won the district and John McCain lost it to Obama in 2008. But, in 2010 redistricting, state Republicans (who controlled the line drawing process) carved out the Democratic leaning parts of Franklin County (Columbus) and added more rural areas. Two years later, Romney easily carried the district in 2012 and Trump won it in 2016. Don’t be fooled by the Columbus connection of the district. This isn’t one of those suburban “drop-off” districts like GA-06 or KS-03 that saw Trump’s margin lag significantly behind Romney’s. Romney won the district by 10 points. Trump carried it by 11 points.

Tiberi’s departure was a surprise, but not a shock. He was recently passed over as Ways and Means Chairman. And, despite boasting a hefty warchest, skipped on a statewide candidacy in 2016. That left him with no real upward mobility in a Congress that has been anything but functional or productive.

Until Tiberi officially resigns, we won’t know when to expect a special election. The most recent example of an Ohio House special election was 2016 to fill the term of then-Speaker John Boehner. The Columbus Dispatch notes that although Boehner resigned in late 2015, “it took four and one-half months to stage the March 15, 2016 primary and nearly another three months for the June 7, 2016 election won by Republican Warren Davidson.”

Given Tiberi’s long tenure here, there is likely to be some serious pent-up ambition among Republican state and local officeholders to run here. One longtime Ohio GOP insider pointed to state Sen. Jay Hottinger as a likely contender. Other potential candidates include: state Sens. Kris Jordan and Kevin Bacon; State Reps. Mike Duffey, Andrew Brenner, Rick Carfagna, and Anne Gonzales; and Franklin County Auditor Clarence Mingo, who just recently dropped his bid for state Treasurer.

Potential Democratic candidates include: Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor; State Rep. and former Ohio party chair David Leland, and Licking County school board member Stephanie Dodd.

Heading into a challenging mid-term election, Republicans want to keep their open seats to a minimum. Even a seat as reliably Republican on paper as this one can become vulnerable in the right environment and with the right (or wrong) candidates. Given the solid Republican lean of the district, the lack of candidates, or even a date for an election, it’s far too early to move this race from its Solid Republican rating. We will be monitoring it closely.

Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call