Home Politics For the 94th District race, it’s Grace’s historical precedent versus Edwards’ hometown geography

For the 94th District race, it’s Grace’s historical precedent versus Edwards’ hometown geography

12 min read

Athens County is truly a blue county. It has voted for the Democratic nominee in every presidential election since 1968, according to data from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. So common thinking would conclude the Democrat in the race for the 94th District state representative seat, Sarah Grace of Athens, would defeat the Republican, Jay Edwards of Nelsonville.

But can this be proved with historical data of how Athens County has voted in state representative elections of years past, and can the candidates’ place of residence play a factor somehow? Well, data from the past 10 local races proves nothing definitive, but a few trends are evident: Grace has more concrete voting patterns that benefit her in the race, but one major historical example and the fact that Edwards lives in Athens County can be beneficial to his campaign.

To start off, it would be wrong to say a Democrat has always represented Athens in the Ohio House. The current State Rep. Debbie Phillips has only held the seat that represents the city of Athens since 2008. In the past 19 years, only three people have represented the city in the Ohio House of Representatives: Larry Householder from 1997-2003, Jimmy Stewart from 2003-2009 and Phillips from 2009 to present. It’s worth noting both Householder and Stewart are Republicans.

Despite the flip-flopping of party control over the area in the Ohio House, Athens County has always been the largest determinant of who will win the district race. Granted, Athens County has not always been represented by one district. The county was split between two districts in the 1990s, and it’s currently split between the 78th and 94th districts.

Grace has solid historical data to predict her potential victory on Nov. 8. Since the 2000 election (the city of Athens was represented in the Ohio House in the 78th District at the time), the winner of Athen’s state representative race has always been from the same party as the president elect. With FiveThirtyEight’s “polls-only forecast” currently giving Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton an 85 percent chance of winning the presidential election, this bodes well for Grace.

The races that occurred during presidential election years were typically not close, either. Between 1996 and 2014, the winner of the state representative race occurring during a presidential election defeated the second-place challenger by an average of 11.83 percentage points. To put that into perspective, the winner of the race occurring during a midterm election defeated the second-place challenger by an average of 6.66 percentage points.

That doesn’t mean Edwards’ campaign is a lost cause, though. Edwards being a lifelong resident of Nelsonville may impact the race to his advantage.

In the past seven state representative races in the city of Athens’ district, there have been three races that coincided with a presidential election, and two of those three included both candidates who were residents of Athens County.

Both Pat Lang in 2004 and Jill Thompson in 2008, both of whom lived in Athens County at the time of their races, unsurprisingly fared better than Washington County-native Charles Richter in 2012; Lang and Thompson received 41.39 percent and 49.53 percent of the vote, respectively, in their races, while Richter only garnered 38.63 percent of the vote.

While not definitive, this could give Edwards an advantage that Richter and Yolan Dennis, the Meigs County resident who was the 2014 Republican nominee for the 94th District, did not have.

In the 10 state representative races happening in the city of Athens’ district from 1992 to 2014, five were won by someone who lived in a city or township that had a smaller population than the challenger’s home city/township. However, these wins almost always came because the winner was the incumbent in the race. There is only one race that is the exception to this trend, and it’s what Edwards needs to hope to emulate in order to win on Nov. 8: the 1996 election.

In 1996, Householder faced incumbent Democrat Mary Abel for the 78th District. At the time, Abel was a resident of Athens, which had a population of 21,265 people, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. Meanwhile, Householder resided in Glenford of Perry County; the 1990 Census states that Glenford had a population of 208 people at the time. Still, Householder defeated Abel by 25,058 votes to 20,476 votes, or 55.03 percent of the vote to 44.97 percent of the vote. This is in contrast to the fact the Democrats won nationally, with President Bill Clinton being elected to his second term.

The 1996 78th District election is the only case from the city of Athens in the past 20 years where the candidate coming from an area with a smaller population defeated a challenger from an area with a larger population and also won in spite of the winner’s party’s presidential nominee losing the presidency. In the context of recent historical data, following this exceptional case is Edwards’ best bet for defeating Grace in next month’s 94th District race.

Like Edwards, Grace also has a previous race to emulate: the 2008 state representative race for the 92nd District. This is the most recent time where two non-incumbents vied for the seat during a presidential election. Democrat Debbie Phillips defeated Republican Jill Thompson by 27,369 votes to 26,855 votes, or 50.47 percent to 49.53 percent. This was in line with the presidential election, in which Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican Sen. John McCain.

This win also came in spite of both candidates being from Athens County; Phillips resided in the city of Athens (population of 21,342, according to the 2000 U.S. Census) at the time, and Thompson resided in The Plains (population of 2,931, according to the 2000 Census.)

Granted, these cases only look at the final voting results of the races and the candidates’ residences in the past 20 years. There are probably other factors that could have led to the outcomes of the races, such as the geography of the district. For example, redistricting led to Glenford, Householder’s residence, falling under the parameters of the 72nd District instead of the 94th District. In this decade, Householder would not be able to represent the city of Athens in the Ohio House.

However, this historical data has very few deviations and can be seen as a reliable indicator of how voters chose the city of Athens’ state representative in the recent past. There’s some basis to believe that since Athens County is so Democratic, Grace’s win is probable. In contrast, Edwards is in a better position than some of the previous GOP candidates for the seat, and people should not to underestimate him.

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  1. […] had a recent precedent of Democratic control behind her as well. even so, Hasely said he thinks Grace “got caught up in […]


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