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Parties, PACs Select Candidates in Ohio’s 14th District; Independents Left Out

In Ohio, which has a mixed primary system, independent voters can vote in primaries only if they affiliate themselves with a recognized party. Independent candidates cannot appear on a primary ballot without forming a party that is approved and recognized by the state.

Although independent voters can access a special unaffiliated ballot, those ballots only allow them to vote on issues, not candidates for office. A small group of independents protested at the secretary of state’s office.

For Democrats in the 14th district, the primary election — held on May 6 — was moot since the DCCC announced Michael Wager as the party’s official candidate. Wager is an attorney and longtime donor and fundraiser for Democratic politicians in the state, including senators and other representatives. He was behind the huge fundraising effort on behalf of Senator Sherrod Brown’s re-election campaign in 2012, one of the most expensive in the country.

Now, Wager is hoping to use his fundraising expertise and deep Democratic network to oust GOP incumbent David Joyce. Joyce was elected to the House in 2012 after the sudden, and very public, retirement of 9-term GOP Rep. Steve C. LaTourette.

LaTourette was one of the many self-described moderate members of Congress who either resigned or retired prior to the 2012 elections citing insurmountable polarization and gridlock in Congress.

“I have reached the conclusion that the atmosphere today and the reality that exists in the House of Representatives no longer encourages the finding of common ground,” he said to reporters prior to announcing his retirement.

LaTourette officially retired just 100 days before the 2012 Election Day, which allowed party leaders time to select Joyce, who won the seat with 54 percent of the vote.

His resignation put the GOP in a tough spot. The party took control of Ohio’s state legislature just in time to control the decadal redrawing of district lines. The new lines shored up Republican advantages in other districts while leaving LaTourette, a long-serving incumbent, more exposed.

The GOP assumed LaTourette would choose to stay in office and that his popularity made it unnecessary to redraw his district lines. Since his resignation, the DCCC has identified the district as one of their top-four targets for 2014.

Today, LaTourette is a registered lobbyist and leads the Defending Main Street PAC, which aims to fund and support moderate Republican candidates who face primary challenges from tea party candidates. LaTourette has used the opening provided by Citizens United to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP candidates of his choosing throughout the country, including David Joyce.

Unlike Wager, Joyce faced a primary challenge from tea party-backed candidate Matt Lynch. Lynch ran as a “true conservative” and attacked Joyce as not being conservative enough and lacking an ability to stand up to the party establishment and the Democratic Party. LaTourette’s PAC donated $100,000 for Joyce to fend off Lynch. Joyce won the primary with 55 percent of the vote.

2012 exit polls showed 31 percent of Ohioans identified as independent or something other than Republican or Democrat. The Rothenberg Political Report rates the district as “leans Republican.” The Cook Partisan Voting Index similarly gives the GOP a 4-point advantage.

The only other name currently scheduled to appear on the November ballot is Libertarian candidate David Macko. Independent candidates had to file a petition by May 5. Write-in candidates have until August 25 to file a declaration of Intent.