Trump's sway tested in race for open mid-Ohio US House seat

FILE— in this file photo from June 24, 2015, Republican State Rep. Stephanie Kunze listens to an explanation of proposed legislation in Columbus, Ohio. Kunze is one of the candidates in the crowded Republican primary for an open U.S. House seat in central Ohio's District 15. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins, File)
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The crowded Republican primary for an open U.S. House seat in central Ohio is testing the ongoing political sway of former President Donald Trump as his choice in the race, a longtime coal lobbyist, is competing against candidates backed by other conservative leaders, movements and donors.

The race in the sprawling GOP-leaning 15th Congressional District, which is gerrymandered to include all or part of 12 Ohio counties including parts of Columbus, also has seen endorsements by Republican groups backing women candidates, a powerful anti-abortion group and allies of the former president.

Trump, who twice won the state by wide margins, has touted candidate Mike Carey as the best choice to succeed former U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers. Stivers resigned in May to lead the Ohio Chamber of Commerce after holding the seat for a decade. The special election primary is Aug. 3.

In a release, Trump's Save America PAC said Carey, "will be a courageous fighter for the people and our economy, is strong on the Border, and tough on Crime,” and mentioned his experience in the U.S. Army National Guard and support for the Second Amendment. Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has also been crossing the district to campaign for Carey.

Stivers, himself a National Guard major general, is supporting first-term state Rep. Jeff LaRe, a former deputy sheriff and security services company executive, to represent Ohio's 15th district. LaRe is running on a pro-law enforcement platform that includes tough talk on border control, immigration policy and the need to continue to tackle the opioid crisis and a pledge to keep Ohioans safe.

LaRe is among one former and three sitting state lawmakers running in the Republican primary, the others being state Sens. Stephanie Kunze and Bob Peterson and former state Rep. Ron Hood.

On the Democratic side, state Rep. Allison Russo, a health policy expert, faces Greg Betts, a former Army officer and decorated combat veteran, for the party's nomination.

Kunze has the backing of the GOP in the district's largest county, Franklin, and of the Value In Electing Women PAC founded to elect Republican women to Congress.

“Ohio hasn’t had one Republican woman in its congressional delegation in nearly a decade,” its executive director, Julie Conway, said. “Stephanie Kunze is not only the right person to represent the 15th district, but she’ll be a principled conservative and a powerful advocate for the needs of all constituents.”

Peterson's campaign has focused on his farming background and his service in the Statehouse where he's been either in the Ohio House or Senate since 2011. The powerful Ohio Right to Life PAC, the political arm of the state's oldest and largest anti-abortion group, has endorsed him.

Hood, meanwhile, has snagged the endorsement of a key Trump ally: U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. In a tweet, Paul called Hood “a proven constitutional conservative who will stand for the entire Bill of Rights and for an America First foreign policy.”

If that were not enough to divide the district's Trump-supporting base, another Trump ally, conservative activist Debbie Meadows, wife of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, has backed Ruth Edmonds in the Republican race. Edmonds is on the advisory board to Ohio’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Meadows' Right Women PAC said Edmonds, who is Black, “will be a powerful voice in Congress, countering the growing BLM/Marxist movement.” It said Edmonds' “life experiences, her Biblical worldview, and her Christian faith have uniquely prepared her to stand up against the race-baiting bullies of the radical Left.”

Influential New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, who founded Elevate PAC, formed to promote female Republican candidates, opted against backing Edmonds or Kunze — sticking instead with Trump's man, Carey.

In a statement, Stefanik, who now chairs the House Republican Conference, said she was standing by Trump's pick because “to defeat the socialist Democrat agenda and fire Nancy Pelosi in 2022, we need more proven conservative fighters in the House Republican Conference.”

For his part, the first-time candidate Carey hasn't campaigned on being “a proven fighter,” but on Trump's twice-winning label of “outsider.” He has never held elective office, but has lobbied the state Legislature.

Carey represented a company named in an indictment of a former House speaker and others allegedly involved in an elaborate bribery and dirty tricks scheme to pass a sweeping piece of energy legislation, House Bill 6. That firm, Murray Energy, is cited as “Company B” in the federal indictment. The company has not been accused of any crimes.

Other Republican candidates include: John Adams, owner of a chemical business; Eric M. Clark, a nurse at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base; former Perry County Commissioner Thad Cooperrider; golf club owner Thomas Hwang; and attorney Omar Tarazi, a member of the Hilliard City Council.

The winners of the primaries will face off on Nov. 2.