- Lawrence Budd Staff Writer
A three-way race taking shape in Warren County will gauge the popularity of the local Tea Party and the leader of the local GOP with county voters.
Ray Warrick, chairman of the county GOP and leader of its Tea Party, is planning to run for the Republican nomination for the 62nd District seat in the Ohio House of Representatives.
Warrick is joining a ballot expected to include Scott Lipps, a long-time member of Franklin City Council, and Steve Muterspaw, in his first term as a Clearcreek Twp. trustee.
Last year, Warrick led a party leadership takeover in which the Tea Party won most of the top leadership spots. This unseated leaders primarily associated with the Right to Life issue, who had themselves unseated the established mainstream Republican leadership a decade ago.
Muterspaw is expected to draw support from Right to Life groups, while much of Lipps’ backing is coming from mainstream party leadership, including Ron Maag, the incumbent in the House district up for election.
“It’s the same battle we had when we took over the party. Whether we can prevail in an election, I have no idea. We’re about to find out,” Warrick said.
Local tea partiers previously tried to unseat an incumbent, Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Clearcreek Twp., who easily defeated Kelly Kohls, a former Springboro school board member, in last year’s Republican primary.
Warrick’s pulling of petitions conflicts with statements he made after the party leadership takeover in which he pledged to remain an activist, rather than a candidate.
“They want to handpick the next candidate and circumvent the central committee. I just don’t think that’s right,” said Warrick.
Warrick’s decision to run for office while leading the party was a “bit unusual,” according to John Green, director or the Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.
“When you have really ambitious leaders,” he said. “They use their resources for those purposes.”
On the other hand, party leaders running for office or picking candidates to run can expect to find supporters ready to campaign for his election, Green said.
“A party organization can be very helpful to advance issues, but it can also be important in organizing campaigns,” he said.
While hardly unheard of, such campaigns are still the exception. “This process is usually dominated by candidates,” Green said.
Lipps and Muterspaw took exception to Warrick’s labeling of them as the social conservative (Muterspaw) and mainstream (Lipps) candidates in the race for the statehouse seat.
Although Warrick labeled himself the fiscal conservative, Lipps and Muterspaw said they both took a hard line on government spending.
Lipps, a long-time Franklin City Council member, said he favored an amendment in the current state budget bill permitting the Warren County Board of Commissioners to add a 1 percent lodgings tax without giving local voters the option for a referendum to help finance construction of a sports complex to be run by the county convention and visitors bureau.
Lipps pointed to figures estimating that 70 percent of lodgings tax comes from people living outside the county, while funding a project expected to boost tourism, already said to bring $1 billion a year into the county.
“I firmly support it,” said Lipps. “He’s going to require more Warren County tax dollars.”
Muterspaw declined to take a position on the issue without further study.
Still in his first term as a Clearcreek Twp. trustee, Muterspaw acknowledged he - like Lipps - was not part of the local Tea Party, although “we have many areas of common ground.”
All three are abortion opponents and share relatively conservative political views. Last week, they were still laying out their platforms.
Already gearing up for the primary
Muterspaw and Warrick pulled their petitions earlier this month.
Although he has yet to pull petitions, Lipps kicked off his campaign several months ago and has developed literature and a logo. Lipps said Maag had agreed to become his campaign treasurer and was among 26 elected officials from Warren County backing him.
The election isn’t until March 16. Candidates have until 4 p.m. on Dec. 16 to file.
Last week, Muterspaw’s campaign phone line was encouraging supporters to sign up for his next fund-raising pig roast.
Warrick had no candidate filings and Lipps and Muterspaw entered the campaign year with only about $8,000 in funds on hand, according to the latest filings with the Warren County Board of Elections.
But all three are getting into campaign mode. Muterspaw described himself as the candidate most able to “work with others.”
While mindful of Warrick’s GOP and Tea Party positions, Lipps expressed confidence his decades of operating a small business and working in the community would win more votes in the primary.
“I can’t wait to see the answer. I think I know the answer,” Lipps said.