Ohio voters are once again in the national spotlight.
A key swing state in general elections, Ohio’s primaries take on added importance this year as Gov. John Kasich stakes his presidential aspirations on winning his home state Tuesday, with other Republicans hoping he can slow businessman Donald Trump’s drive to the nomination.
On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders hopes to repeat his primary upset of Hillary Clinton in neighboring Michigan. Clinton has traditionally done well in Ohio and defeated Barack Obama here in the 2008 presidential primary. Sanders also got a late potential boost from a ruling that 17-year-olds who turn 18 before the November election can vote Tuesday.
The director of the Hamilton County board of elections says voting seemed to be moving smoothly Tuesday morning. Sherry Poland says election officials predicted a 40 to 45 percent turnout.
On the west side of Columbus, Vietnam veteran and Democrat William McMillen said he voted for Trump. McMillen, 70, a part-time warehouse worker, said he is concerned about the company’s economic direction.
“He’s a businessman,” McMillen said. “America is a big business, and he could make money for us.”
The state’s U.S. Senate Democratic primary has national implications, too.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland, 74, is trying to turn back a challenge from Cincinnati Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, 31. Democrats have targeted Republican incumbent Rob Portman in their effort to regain a Senate majority, and the state’s party leadership says Strickland has a better shot.
In western Ohio, the resignation last year of former House Speaker John Boehner has set up a Republican free-for-all to succeed him in the seat he held since 1990. The field of 15 GOP candidates competing in unusual dual primaries includes two state legislators and a host of novices.
Only one Democrat and one Green Party candidate are running in the heavily Republican district spanning six counties. There will be a June 7 special election to complete Boehner’s term and then the general election for the new two-year term starting in January.
In the winner-take-all presidential primary, Kasich is enjoying high approval ratings in his bid to win 66 delegates and leave open the possibility of a contested GOP national convention this July in Cleveland. While trying to keep his campaign’s tone positive, Kasich criticized Trump for creating “a toxic environment” at rallies and urged Ohioans to vote against “the dark side.”
Trump lashed back, calling Kasich “a baby” and weak and deliberately mispronouncing his name.
Some supporters of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio say they will vote for Kasich in the stop-Trump effort.
Ohio voters are also choosing nominees in other congressional districts to oppose incumbents and have to cast their ballots for Ohio Supreme Court and some legislative races.
Six Republican and four Democratic incumbents are defending their state House seats, while two veteran state lawmakers, including a former speaker, look to return. In the Senate, four sitting Republicans have challengers.
The GOP has significant majorities in both chambers.
Associated Press writers Ann Sanner and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus contributed to this report.
Follow Dan Sewell on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell
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