Redistricting will hurt Ryan

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan couldn’t have been more clear.

After years of talk of him running for statewide office, Ryan, D-Howland, said he’s very happy staying in the U.S. House. But that’s as long as his congressional district lines don’t change too drastically making the seat more competitive with Republicans.

When I asked about a statewide race in 2022, Ryan said: “I don’t have any interest in that. No, uh-uh, no interest. My preference is to get a good district and keep doing what we’re doing. I don’t want to run for a different office.”

But it might not work out that way.

Ohio is likely to lose a congressional district as part of the nation’s population shift. The census will make that official next year, in time to redraw congressional districts for the 2022 election.

It’s possible a member of Congress from Ohio will not seek re-election in two years. The most likely candidate is U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Cincinnati, but that’s far from certain. Chabot’s current district is the most competitive in the state, but he’s held off tough challenges during the last two election cycles.

However, when lines are redrawn, his southwestern Ohio district could end up being one that favors increasing numbers of Democrats in the Cincinnati area. That could lead to his retirement, but he’s been counted out before and still won.

Ryan, who won a 10th two-year term in what was the second-closest congressional race in the state, essentially gave a warning to Republicans in this upcoming redistricting.

He told me if he gets a district that doesn’t favor him or pits him against an incumbent Republican — both are legitimate possibilities — it’s “a different ballgame. We have to see what redistricting looks like. We’re hanging back and seeing what that looks like. If it’s bad, we’ll re-evaluate. We have to see the district.”

When Republicans drew lines for Ryan’s current 13th Congressional District, it was designed as a safe Democratic area.

Ryan has won re-election since then, but the margin of victory has significantly declined. It was 45.6 percent in 2012, 37 percent in 2014, 35.5 percent in 2016 and 22 percent in 2018.

He beat former state Rep. Christina Hagan, a Republican from Marlboro Township, by 7.5 percent in this past election.

With one fewer district in 2022, the remaining 15 will grow in geographical size.

Ryan’s district includes much of Mahoning, Trumbull, Portage and Summit counties and a small part of Stark.

The problem for Ryan is if his district expands north, it goes into more Republican parts of Trumbull (he already lost the more Democratic section of the county by 1.24 percent to Hagan) and into Ashtabula County, where every Republican on the ticket won in this election.

If Ryan goes south, he enters the red part of Mahoning County and then into no man’s land for Democrats — the solid Republican county of Columbiana.

If Ryan’s district expands west into Summit and / or Portage, the number of Republicans in those counties not currently in his district are significant. His small part of Stark is already red, as is the rest of that county. He obviously can’t go east as his district borders Pennsylvania.

So Republicans could be accommodating to Ryan with redistricting, and it still won’t do him any favors as his current district is quickly trending Republican and the surrounding areas are even worse for his political future.

There’s an outside chance that Ohio doesn’t lose a congressional district, but there’s been a big population decline in the 13th in the past decade so more residents will still have to be added, who would come from Republican communities.

Ryan can warn and threaten Republicans and actually get what he wants — and still end up with a district that will make it difficult for him to be re-elected or at least face tough challenges.

In an ironic twist for Ryan, districts that aren’t gerrymandered — and would increase competition in a much greater way than we have now — are what the state’s new redistricting policy is supposed to encourage.

Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle.



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