Senate race tests tea party influence

Former school board member challenges incumbent

Political experts are watching a primary race between two women from the same Warren County township running for the District 7 seat in the Ohio Senate.

Incumbent Sen. Shannon Jones is opposed in the May 6 GOP primary by Kelly Kohls, a former Springboro school board member and local tea party leader with state and national connections in neoconservative political circles.

“I think it’s a very important race to watch,” said John Green, executive director of The Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

Jones is seeking her second term in the Ohio Senate after two terms in the state House of Representatives.

Before running for office, Jones worked on U.S. Rep. Mike Turner’s staff and on other Republican campaigns. She is aligned with Gov. John Kasich and backed by the Ohio Republican Party.

“Incumbency is very powerful,” Green said.

Kohls’ run is only her second for public office. Former chairman of the Warren County Tea Party, Kohls was part of a short-lived tea party gubernatorial ticket and has appeared on Glen Beck’s internet TV show.

While relatively unsuccessful in Ohio, Tea party candidates, including Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, have won in the South, Green said. Overall voters are still getting to know the new candidates and positions, he added.

“It hasn’t gone very well in Ohio,” Green said.

Kohls finished first in a four-way race for three school board seats that unseated a former board president.

“Candidates like that are potentially successful in Republican primaries,” Green said.

Ohio Senate District 7 includes Warren County and small parts of Butler and Hamilton counties.

Jones and Kohls live about three miles apart, just outside Springboro, in Clearcreek Twp., in northern Warren County.

In the past they have shared political views. Kohls testified on behalf of the controversial Senate Bill 5, sponsored by

Jones. Enacted by Ohio lawmakers, the law, which limited the right of public employees to engage in collective bargaining, was repealed by voters in 2011.

In this election, Jones is running on her record, posting yard signs emphasizing her conservatism and sending out mailings in a well-funded campaign.

Kohls is calling on voters to unseat the incumbent and others aligned with the state GOP, while waging a campaign without yard signs and 1/50th the campaign funding, according to recent expense reports.

Jones - and other members of the state leadership - have lost sight of their responsibility to voters, Kohls said.

“They have started to think of themselves as our leaders rather than our representatives,” she said.

In response, Jones said, “”When you’re a legislator, your responsibility is to balance the interests of all the constituents that you represent,” she said. “I also have an obligation to the rest of the state.”

Kohls is on a slate of about 30 candidates for the state legislature backed by the Ohio Citizens Political Action Committee formed to “advocate for conservative issues and candidates that advance the cause of Individual Freedom and Liberty in the form of Constitutionally limited government,” according to the group’s web site.

Kohls is also among an Ohio group who have committed to a “Freedom Contract” committing to conservative positions on issues including gay marriage, taxes and religious freedom.

Jones said voters should support her and others in the GOP leadership who over the past four years under Gov. John Kasich have cut taxes, including elimination of the estate tax. A projected $8 billion deficit has been turned to a $1 billion rainy day fund, while more than 230,000 new private sector jobs have been created, Jones said.

“Here’s the difference, I have a record. That’s the contract I have with my constituents,” Jones said.

The Ohio Republican Party has already paid for two mailings endorsing Jones, while she has posted campaign signs around the district. The Friends of Shannon Jones reported spending $114,321 and $84,871 on hand in a pre-campaign expense report filed on April 23.

Kohls, on the other hand, said she would be posting no signs, in part due to limited campaign funds.

“I’m hoping to start a trend,” Kohls said. “They may be helpful to the uninformed voter.”

This week, Kohls’ campaign reported $2,105 in contributions and $1,727 on hand.

Kohls acknowledged she and her political allies were in uphill battles.

“We’re obviously at the beginning of the learning curve,” Kohls said. “We may not win this time, but were not backing down.”

The winner is to face Democrat Jimmy Allen in November.

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