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Ohio House race in Summit County could be one of the closest in the state

From left to right, Beth Bigham, Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Madison Gesiotto Gilbert at a campaign rally in Hudson.
Abigail Bottar
Ideastream Public Media
Beth Bigham (left) speaks at a campaign event in Hudson with Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Republican U.S. House candidate Madison Gesiotto Gilbert.

A legislative rematch in this year’s elections could end up being one of the closest races for an Ohio House seat this year. Incumbent Democrat State Rep. Casey Weinstein of Hudson is facing Republican Beth Bigham, who ran against him in 2020 and lost by less than 3%.

“We’re going to put her into the Ohio House of Representatives, because she is an incredible conservative," Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose said, introducing her at a campaign event earlier this month. " She’s a fighter.”

Bigham focused her speech on unifying the community to juxtapose what she views as divisive social media posts by Weinstein.

“I see how divided our community has become. He has really pit neighbor against neighbor, and it is time for that to stop," Bigham said. "We are all Americans. We are all Northeast Ohioans, and I want to represent you and your values.”

Weinstein frequently uses his platforms on Twitter and Facebook to call out antisemitism and bigotry, especially amongst people he says are supporters of Bigham. She called that inflammatory.

"I mean it starts with civility. I live in Hudson so does my opponent," Bigham said. "I think any time two opponents live in the same town it can be difficult, right? But it especially gets exacerbated when an opponent fuels a fire consistently on social media."

But Weinstein's track record in the House shows a willingness to reach across the aisle. He’s worked on bipartisan efforts to advance fair school funding and fund clean water initiatives, both priorities for him if he's reelected. He also wants to focus on repealing the rest of House Bill 6, the FirstEnergy bailout bill embroiled in scandal, and passing new energy policies. He said his constituents know his commitment to bipartisanship.

“They will always know where I stand on an issue, and I will always call out extremism and bullies and hate and antisemitism, and I will continue to do that," Weinstein said. "And I am confident I can also continue delivering bipartisan results for my constituents.”

State Rep. Casey Weinstein on the campaign trail with his family - from left to right, wife Amanda, son Brady, Weinstein and daughters Nora and Emilia.
Casey Weinstein for State Representative
State Rep. Casey Weinstein on the campaign trail with his family - from left to right, wife Amanda, son Brady, Weinstein and daughters Nora and Emilia.

He said he'll always oppose "extremist" bills the GOP introduces, such as requiring both sides of the Holocaust to be taught, mandating genitalia inspections for children, putting guns in classrooms and getting rid of conceal carry permits.

Bigham said she’s committed to backing conservative values, but she said she’s also committed to working with Democrats on issues like infrastructure and lowering healthcare costs for Ohioans.

“I see the costs, the rising costs of healthcare. You look at just even our GDP for the U.S., you look at just the percentage that we spend on healthcare, and you look at outcomes," Bigham said. "Our outcomes are nowhere near what they should be for the cost that’s we’re spending of our GDP.”

One of her goals if elected would be to bring more transparency to the healthcare industry.

"Hey, if I'm going to have an MRI of a brain, let's just say for instance, I'm not going to be shocked when I get this bill for $10,000, because that happens. And it's devastating to a family," Bigham said. "We can't let that happen, especially when you could go down the street to a different place, a freestanding MRI place, and get one for more than 80% less."

The race in Ohio House District 34 is one of the top three closest Ohio House races, said Stephen Brooks with the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. Weinstein flipped the seat blue in 2018 and only narrowly retained it two years ago. This is a new district this year after Ohio went through the process of redistricting following the 2020 Census, said Brooks.

“One of the analyses of the redistricting process labelled the seat as Democratic, but it was 51% to 47%, which means that nobody really has an advantage," Brooks said.

Bigham agrees the district leans more Democratic, but she thinks the current national political climate is in her favor.

“Many Democrats are more than willing to vote for a Republican because of the economy, because of inflation, because of crime, all these different things," Bigham said.

She said when she's talking to constituents that inflation is one of their number one concerns and is hurting people of all socioeconomic statuses.

"It runs the gamut of not being able to basically say, 'Oh, we've got to make sure that we make this meal right, because if it burns, there's nothing else,' to deciding on an afterschool event to, 'Our 401k is falling apart. We've lost over 35% of our retirement,'" Bigham said."

She's surprised to be gaining support in places historically thought of as Democratic strongholds.

From left to right, campaign signs for Susan Steinhauer, Kristina Roegner, Beth Bigham, Frank LaRose, Madison Gesiotto Gilbert and J.D. Vance.
Abigail Bottar
Ideastream Public Media.
Campaigns for Republican candidates up and down the ballot brought signs to hand out in Hudson.

"What I have historically thought of, 'Well Cuyahoga Falls is very Dem leaning. It's going to be tough.' But when I meet them, they're such great people, and they care about the things that I care about," Bigham said. "I want to listen to them. I haven't met anyone that I haven't cared about their issues, so it's just good to hear that they're normal, regular hardworking people."

But Weinstein thinks the district actually leans a little right, with more registered Republicans than Democrats. Even then, he said he likes representing such a diverse district.

“I think it keeps me accountable to both sides of the proverbial aisle, and you know it engrains in me the importance of showing up for every single constituent, forget voter," Weinstein said.

And this is something Weinstein is worried Bigham won’t do if elected. He cited four nonpartisan forums she did not participate in.

“And I think that’s indicative of you know unfortunately a pattern of you know showing up for groups that she thinks support her but not really doing the job in this job interview we’re going through of showing up for everyone," Weinstein said.

State Rep. Casey Weinstein and supporters pose with campaign signs at a campaign event.
Casey Weinstein for State Representative
State Rep. Casey Weinstein has been with campaigning with supporters and other Democratic candidates running in Ohio.

Bigham said one forum jointly hosted by the Akron area and Hudson chapters of the League of Women Voters was partisan and accused the league and its leadership of donating to Weinstein’s campaign.

"So what I do is I go to talk to people at their homes, I go to events where they are, where the deck isn't already stacked against me," Bigham said.

In its bylaws, the League of Women Voters states it does not support or oppose any political party or candidate, prohibits board members from running or holding partisan elected office or party positions or making campaign contributions.

Bigham cited focusing her campaign on reaching undecided voters as another reason she didn't attend any forums.

"I knew every single person in that room had already decided," Bigham said.

Regardless, Bigham’s unwillingness to participate in debates and forums isn’t likely to hurt her chance of being elected, said Brooks.

"With the increase in ways in which candidates can contact people, following on social media, I don't think it is as damaging to a candidate to just say, 'I'm going to skip it,'" Brooks said.

The national political climate heading into the midterms does favor Bigham, said Brooks.

When it comes to money, however, Weinstein has outraised Bigham by more than four to one, according to the latest campaign finance report.

The Ohio Republican Party is known to swoop in at the last second, Brooks said. In the end, the race is too close to call.

“If I was a betting guy, I would not bet on this race," Brooks said.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.