A National Fight For The Heart Of The GOP Plays Out In Northeast Ohio

By
Kabir Bhatia - WKSU/Ohio Public Radio


Updated Thu, Apr 24, 2014 5:51 pm
Photo Credit: 
Abigail S. Fisher/WOUB
Ohio University College Republicans Dylan Gustafson and Parker Salata check their phones during an election returns party at the republican headquarters in Athens, Ohio.

Steve LaTourette was in Congress for 18 years, and his old district now starts north of Akron, then fans out north and westward to take up much of the northeast tip of the state.

When he resigned two years ago, he cited political gridlock and an increasingly far-right drift in the Republican party. He plucked David Joyce from the Geauga County prosecutor’s office as his replacement, and Joyce beat two perennial candidates in 2012. This year, Joyce is seeing a primary challenge from State Rep. Matt Lynch.

“My race with Congressman Joyce is indicative of the battle going on within the Republican Party. There’s this real tension between those who want to adhere to our conservative values, and the conservative base wants that. And then there are those who really just want to go along to get along and compromise those principles and turn the Republican Party into Democrat Lite.” 

Lynch says he’s relying on that conservative base to help him win the primary. It’s a common strategy, says Dave Cohen, a political scientist at the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

“In primaries, the most active ideologues come out and vote. It’s going to be a question of, ‘Is Dave Joyce conservative enough for Republican primary voters?’” 

Cohen points to Joyce’s endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Right to Life and the NRA.

“He has voted against Obamacare just about every time. But if you look at some of the ratings from National Journal and GovTrack, which are very neutral organizations, Dave Joyce is very much a centrist and a moderate. And that’s really one of the reasons Steve LaTourette’s Main Street Partnership is supporting him.”

The Main Street Partnership SuperPAC has given more than $83,000 to the Joyce campaign. LaTourette heads the group, and says relying on “angry 57-year-old white guys” as a voter base is bad governing. And he says his group acts as a counter to the $30,000 spent by FreedomWorks on online ads for Lynch. The group spent more than $19 million two years ago supporting candidates running to the right of sitting Republicans. 

“It should violate everybody’s sense of Democracy to think that some people with a lot of money can come in and dwarf the activity of the party or the candidate and basically pick who your member of Congress is or your Senator or your President. So, we’re just trying to level the playing field.”

That playing field this year is likely to involve Obamacare – which both Joyce and Lynch want to repeal—and immigration reform. The northern part of the 14th district has a large Hispanic population, which has occasionally clashed with locals in recent years over immigration reform. Federal agents have conducted raids in Painesville on a periodic basis.

Joyce has conducted web surveys on the issue, and immigration groups say he’s receptive to concerned constituents, but he has not taken an official position.

“We have to enforce the law. We also have to close our borders. Then figure out who we have here, and what we’re going to do with them.”

On the other hand, Lynch opposes amnesty, saying public opinion is on his side. But Dave Cohen with the Bliss Institute says, on the whole, that may not be the case.

“Dave Joyce really fits the district quite well. The people of the district, he is much more in tune with than someone like Matt Lynch. You would have a lot of independents scurrying over to the Democrat side to vote against him.”

Cohen adds he’d be surprised at a Lynch victory, given Joyce’s war chest from private contributions, and from the LaTourette SuperPAC.

Had Lynch run for re-election in his statehouse district, he actually would have faced Sarah LaTourette, Steve’s daughter.

“He does appear to be running against me, and I’m not on the ballot anymore, and he does appear to be running against my daughter. And as a dad, I find that disgusting. And he has it in his head that there’s some national conspiracy that John Boehner and John Kasich called me and said, ‘We have to get rid of this guy who is the white knight of the far-right.’”

But the move from statehouse to U.S. House has more to do with frustration, according to Lynch.

“I could have frankly beaten her, easily, but I’m really interested in promoting these conservative values. And it’s frustrating to be doing that in Columbus, and not have a partner in Washington.”

Whether Lynch or Congressman Joyce wins the May 6 primary, he’ll face Democrat Mike Wager - former chairman of the Cleveland Port Authority - this fall.

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