Ohio Right To Life Endorsements Shake Up Republican Primary

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In case you missed it, Ohio Right to Life (ORTL) threw a wrench into what was a rather predictable primary election by making some surprising endorsements through the group’s Ohio Right to Life PAC. Not only did ORTL endorse several Democrats and several members of the Ohio House who were not endorsed by the Ohio Republican Party, but the group also bestowed endorsements upon two candidates who are challenging incumbents.

In the 27th Senate District ORTL endorsed political newcomer Caleb Davenport over incumbent Frank LaRose. The district includes all of Wayne County and parts of Summit and Stark Counties. Davenport, a financial planner, has the support several tea party groups as well as many of the statewide conservative groups including Family First PAC, Citizens for Community Values Action PAC, and Ohioans for Educational Freedom. LaRose currently does not have any endorsements listed on his campaign website.

In the 14th Congressional District, located in northeast Ohio, the pro-life group endorsed State Rep. Matt Lynch over Congressman Dave Joyce, who was initially appointed to the seat in 2012 after his close friend, Rep. Steve LaTourette, retired. He was then elected to the seat in 2013. ORTL added “Honor Roll” designation to Lynch’s endorsement, saying he has “truly embodied and lived out what it means to be “pro-life.”

These two endorsements, in particular, have raised some eyebrows since in past elections ORTL has supported incumbent candidates. They have also focused on candidates who were “electable,” with the size of a candidate’s campaign war chest weighing heavily in the decision. Some have speculated that LaRose’s non-endorsement was retribution for his vote against ORTL president Mike Gonidakis when Gov. Kasich appointed him to the State Medical Board. Others say it was because LaRose did not support the Heartbeat Bill, however, ORTL also opposes that bill. Still others wonder if the endorsement is related to LaRose’s liberal views on homosexual rights.

[RELATED on OCR: “What Happened to the Heartbeat Bill?”]

Gonidakis spoke to Ohio Conservative Review this week and insisted that he was not targeting LaRose as a result of his vote against Gonidakis. “I do not have a vote on the board,” Gonidakis said. “I’m in the room and I am observing the discussions but I don’t have a vote.” He added that board members come from a variety of backgrounds and hail from different parts of the state.

This year, Gonidakis said, the board voted unanimously not to endorse LaRose, based solely upon his answers to the group’s questionnaires. He said LaRose received a score of only 60% when answering the group’s questions related to the sanctity of life. ORTL board member Carrie Snyder wrote in a letter to the Beacon Journal that

“LaRose’s response to our candidate questionnaire ranked among the lowest of any legislator who sought Ohio Right to Life’s endorsement.”

Gonidakis added that it was one of the lowest ever submitted to ORTL. “We looked at their questionnaires,” he said,

“and there was no comparison. LaRose came in at 60% compared to 100% for Davenport.”

Gonidakis would not disclose LaRose’s answers, saying ORTL has a long-standing policy of keeping that information confidential. The questions remain the same year-to-year, Gonidakis explained, but he didn’t recall how LaRose scored when he received the group’s endorsement in 2010. Sen. LaRose ran unopposed in the primary election that year and ORTL endorsed him in the general election over his pro-abortion opponent.

Some have suggested that LaRose’s pro-life voting record ought to weigh more heavily than the questionnaires. But according to Gonidakis, most of the pro-life legislation enacted in the last session was through the budget and ORTL “did not score votes on the budget, only stand-alone bills.” He recalled that there were only three stand-alone bills related to abortion, adding that “We thank Sen. LaRose for his pro-life votes and this is not to take anything away from that.”

In addition to the abortion issue, LaRose made waves last year when he worked with homosexual activist groups and nine Democrats  to sponsor a controversial “anti-discrimination” bill that would grant new rights based on sexual orientation or perceived gender identity. LaRose was the lone Republican sponsor of SB 125. While the legislation offers some protections for religious groups, they are very narrow. The bill would use the force of law to usurp the ability of Christian businesses, schools, and ministries to make hiring decisions based upon their sincerely-held religious beliefs unless they could prove to the state that the religious beliefs were a bona fide occupational qualification. It would also force these organization to provide access to “adequate facilities” based upon an individual’s “actual or perceived gender identity.”

In conservative Wayne County, the largest geographic area in LaRose’s district, voters are divided, including members of the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee. Though the committee will not be making endorsements for the primary, there is an ongoing debate about not only the ORTL endorsement but about LaRose’s conservative credentials. Both Davenport and LaRose will make their cases to the committee at the April meeting where a lively discussion is expected.

[RELATED on OCR: “Bitter Irony: SSM Lobby Steamrolls Ohio Civil Liberties Bill”]

Despite the controversy surrounding the bill, Gonidakis insisted that it played no role in the endorsement. He said candidates were not asked about their views on marriage, or fracking, or any other issue not related to protecting the lives of the unborn. “We are a single-issue organization,” he said.

While there is reason to be wary of LaRose’s non-endorsement due to his past disagreements with Gonidakis, that doesn’t explain the endorsement of Matt Lynch over Dave Joyce for the 14th District seat in Congress. Lynch, a tea party favorite during his tenure as a member of the Ohio legislature, decided not to run for re-election to the Ohio House after Sarah LaTourette Kayser — Steve LaTourette’s daughter — filed to challenge Lynch in the Republican primary. LaTourette-Kayser is married to Scott Kayser, the Northeast Ohio Regional Director for the Ohio Republican Party.

Lynch told Media Trackers of Ohio,

“It certainly strains credibility that the wife of an employee of the Ohio Republican Party, who also happens to be Steve LaTourette’s daughter, would decide to challenge an incumbent Republican member of the legislature without a number of people up the food chain giving the nod of approval.”

He added that he viewed LaTourette-Kayser’s candidacy as a “green light” to primary Joyce, a close friend of Steve LaTourette, whose super PAC, Defending Mainstreet, has vowed to take out conservative tea party candidates during this election cycle. Congressman Joyce is a member of the Mainstreet group. Several local tea party groups, FreedomWorks, and the Ohio Liberty Coalition have endorsed Lynch.

[RELATED on OCR: “Conservatives Smacked Again by Ohio Republican Party”]

Mike Gonidakis said that

“Lynch also had a 100% on our questionnaire and Joyce’s came in well below his.”

He again insisted that the endorsement were based on the candidates’ answer to the questionnaires.

Media Trackers also reported that “Joyce has lifetime scores of 46 percent from FreedomWorks, 47 percent from Club for Growth, and 46 percent from Heritage Action. National Journal ranked Joyce as the 214th most liberal and 217th most conservative House member in 2013.”

Lynch, an outspoken Christian and a fiscal and social conservative, was only one of a handful of Republicans who sued Gov. Kasich after he bypassed the legislature and used the Controlling Board to enact Medicaid expansion last year. Lynch also voted against last year’s budget, citing concerns that it increased spending over the previous year’s budget and increases in taxes for some in the state.

[RELATED on OCR: “Kasich Has Created a Crisis”]

[ALSO on OCR: “Separation of Loopholes: Assembly Must Check Kasich’s Abuses”]

There is expected to be a large fundraising disparity in both races. Joyce has $1 million in his war chest. Lynch reported $75,000 on hand in his January campaign filing. LaRose reported $120,000 in his campaign fund in January while Davenport, as a first time candidate, has not yet filed a campaign finance report.

Will money and the support of the Ohio Republican establishment tip the election in the direction of the incumbents, or will grassroots support and endorsements from tea party groups and other key conservative organizations result in upsets on election day?

[RELATED on OCR: “What Must Conservatives Do to Win? Part 1, Part 2, Part 3”]

In previous elections, with few exceptions, primary wins by the incumbents would have been a foregone conclusion. The endorsements by Ohio Right to Life have shaken up the races and may have given impetus to campaigns that, in a normal year, would have been written off. Nothing should be regarded as a foregone conclusion for the May 6th primaries.

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Paula Bolyard describes herself as a Christian first, conservative second, and Republican third. She is a member of the Wayne County Executive Committee and is owner and moderator of the Ohio Homeschool Yahoo! Group. She is a contributor at PJ Media Lifestyle, PJ Media, and RedState.

All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.

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