DeWine Sets Aug. 3 Primary For Former Rep. Marcia Fudge's Seat, Pushes Ohio Vaccine Ramp Up

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday the state is racing to get COVID-19 vaccination shots in arms across the state. But similar speed is not being applied to the race to replace a member of Ohio’s Congressional delegation.

The primary vote in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) will be held Aug. 3, DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced Thursday during DeWine's customary pandemic briefing.

The general election for the 11th Congressional District’s new representative will be Nov. 2, leaving Fudge’s seat vacant for 229 days.

LaRose said the timeline was well in line with other recent congressional vacancies, including when former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and former Rep. Pat Tiberi, both Republicans, retired. Those seats were empty for 219 and 214 days, respectively.

“[The governor's] order is going to set dates that are fair to both the candidates and the voters, of course allows them time to do what they need to do, and also really follows the precedent of the last several recent vacancies,” LaRose said Thursday.

Candidates – who in December began lining up to replace Fudge after her appointment to President Joe Biden’s Cabinet as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – have until May 5 to file their official candidacy with the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. There is a May 24 deadline for write-in candidates to file.

Those who are not already registered to vote have until July 6 to register if they want to vote in the Aug. 3 primary.

LaRose said it's possible, but far from optimal, to hold the primary a few weeks earlier.

“It would have cost a lot of money because it would've had two off-cycle elections then and so that would've been costly for the taxpayers to do that and it also would have been out of the norm and not what people are accustomed to,” he said.

DeWine blamed an unwieldy process and the slow approval of her nomination for the fact that constituents in Fudge's Northeast Ohio district, which is majority Black and the poorest in the state, will be without representation for the rest of the year.

“You wouldn't be able to mail out the ballots, get them printed and mail out the ballots for the overseas people who wanted to vote,” DeWine said. “That's the beginning process, is the overseas [ballots].”

There is a May primary already scheduled for Cuyahoga and Summit counties, but this race could not be included, DeWine said, due to the time associated with printing of ballots and shipping them to overseas voters.

Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown, former Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson and former state senator Nina Turner are among seven candidates interested in the seat. A heavily gerrymandered district, the winner of the primary will be an overwhelming favorite to win the traditionally Democrat-held seat. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will be left with an even slimmer majority in the House until the seat is filled.

More Vaccination Locations, Eligibility Opening

DeWine visited the Cintas Center in Cincinnati Thursday, the first day the pop-up mass vaccination site opened in the city. With the site — expected to distribute 10,000 doses over three days — already fully booked, the governor offered justification for his decision to open up vaccine eligibility to more Ohioans when some older eligible residents across the state say they are still struggling to get an appointment.

Starting Friday, Ohio residents age 40 and up, and those with cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, heart disease or obesity, become eligible for the vaccine. On March 29, Ohioans age 16 and up become eligible.

“A couple factors,” DeWine said. “We are now averaging about 400,000 first doses every single week. We expect on the 29th of March – that week, or very close to that – we expect that number to go up from 400,000 to about 500,000. That's what we’ve been given, the data from the White House, in regard to that. This is expanding the amount of vaccines.”

DeWine added that he only expects vaccine availability to increase in the coming weeks. The White House, he said, “has given us strong assurance that these numbers are not going to go down. We expect at least half a million every week going forward.”

About 22 percent of Ohio’s adult population has been vaccinated so far, DeWine said Thursday.

“We are also, frankly, in a race,” he said. “We don’t really know exactly what the enemy is doing, but we do know from talking to scientists and epidemiologists that they do believe that the variant is spreading in Ohio. The good news is the vaccine appears to be just as powerful, they think, against the variant as against what we’re dealing with before. The downside of that of course, is that it is believed to be much more contagious, so we're concerned about that.”

According to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), 91 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus have been reported so far, along with one case of the P.1 variant.

ODH on Thursday also reported 2,104 new cases of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours, with 859 Ohioans currently in the hospital being treated for the virus. The state no longer reports the number of coronavirus-related deaths every 24 hours.

DeWine noted that some vaccination providers have asked if they can open up eligibility for those 40 and older early, given that they had the spots to fill.

“And we gave them permission to do that,” he said. “They needed to fill the slots and they thought they could if they could open up to 40 years and they are doing that now.”

Some appointments are held back for community partners to try to reach the most vulnerable communities, DeWine said, but if those don't fill up, the appointments are opened for booking.

“It’s always a tough decision to know when you should open up [eligibility],” he said. “We were seeing Dayton and Columbus say, ‘We have vacancies.’  We seem – and I say seem – we seem to be having a slower uptake every time we move down in age. At least that's what it appears to me to be happening.”

He concluded by saying that he expects that when eligibility opens up March 29 to “see a big dash and then it will level off.”

ideastream's Glenn Forbes contributed to this report.

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