For decades, Northeast Ohio has been politically synonymous with populist Democrats.
But with Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan leaving the House for a Senate bid, and redistricting in Ohio that is seeing the state lose a seat due to low population growth, the newly configured 13th Congressional District has a good chance of flipping to the Republicans.
Starting Jan. 3, 2023, the district will include all of Summit County, northwestern Stark County, and a sliver of southwest Portage County. That’s a change from the 13th District’s current lines, which stretch from the Pennsylvania state line to take in a portion of the city of Akron, Ohio.
Ryan, first elected to the House in 2002 from a different district, has held the seat for the past decade. Ryan has been a consistent critic of American trade policies, particularly with China. He has portrayed himself as a champion for manufacturing in a country that has been fractured by trade and outsourcing.
Ryan’s departure and the open seat weren’t the only changes to the district: Ohio’s redistricting process shifted the lines of the Youngstown-area district to make it friendlier to Republicans, although the state’s districts remain the subject of a legal challenge. The district was ranked as a solid Democratic one in 2020, but a FiveThirtyEight analysis found the new district has an R+2 lean, making it more likely to elect a Republican in 2022.
Candidates for the Republican nomination in the district include Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, a former campaign staffer for both of former President Donald Trump’s campaigns; Shay Hawkins, the CEO of the Opportunity Funds Association and a former policy adviser to GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina; and Janet Folger Porter, the founder and president of Faith2Action, an anti-abortion rights group.
Other lesser-known candidates in the field include Santana King, Dante Sabatucci, Gregory Wheeler, and Ryan Saylor.
Data from the Federal Election Commission show that Gilbert has raised more funds than any of her rivals to date, and she has been endorsed by Trump. The former president said in a March statement that Gilbert “has been a vocal supporter of mine for many years, and now we have a chance to support Madison.”
“She is a small business owner, attorney, and columnist, and will make our voices heard in Washington. In Congress, Madison will strongly fight for Border Security, to Protect Life, Election Integrity, Defend the Second Amendment, and Support our Military, Vets, and Law Enforcement,” the statement read. “She will fight against the menace of human trafficking, and get drugs off our streets. Madison Gesiotto Gilbert is an America First patriot, and has my Complete and Total Endorsement!”
In the Democratic primary in the district, state Rep. Emilia Sykes of Akron, the former Democratic leader in that chamber, has emerged as her party’s front-runner for the nomination and has raised more funds than her Democratic rivals.
Sykes has billed herself as a bridge-builder, and her campaign website touts bipartisan legislation she worked on in the legislature.
“Unfortunately, too many politicians in Ohio are uninterested in working together, and they’re standing in the way of progress and opportunity for Northeast Ohio,” her website reads. “We can’t have a representative in Congress who only looks out for wealthy special interests and peddles wild conspiracy theories that are meant to divide us for political gain.”