Ohio primary kicks off 2022 midterm battles as abortion seizes the debate

The fight over abortion rights took center stage in the final hours of Ohio's Senate primary election Tuesday, where voters are setting the table for many of the 2022 midterm election battles.

Hours before the polls opened, a draft Supreme Court opinion suggested a decision coming this summer to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, which established a constitutional right to abortion.

News that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, plus Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's COVID-19 policies and former President Donald Trump, who put three justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, were all on the minds of some Ohio voters as they went to the polls in Tuesday's primary election. 

Whether abortion consumes the 2022 midterms has yet to be determined, but the Ohio race is going to be indicative of how the primary season shapes the fall battles between Democrats and Republican. The hotly contested Ohio Republican primary also offers an early test of Trump's influence over the Republican Party as he considers running for the presidency again in 2024.

Voters head to the polls on primary Election Day at Grove City Recreation Center in Grove City, Ohio on May 3, 2022.

UPDATES:'Whole range of rights could now be at risk' if Roe v. Wade is overturned, Biden says: Live updates

Political observers said the debate over Trump's influence could replay across the nation, in the Georgia gubernatorial primaries and other Senate contests in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, but Ohio will be the first true challenge for Trump within the GOP.

"One of the big themes is how effective Donald Trump is going to be at getting his preferred candidates over the finish line," said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a political analysis newsletter at the University of Virginia. "So it'll be interesting to take stock at the end of the month and kind of see how the former president did and some of the races where he was sticking his neck out."

Candidates on both sides jump on Supreme Court development

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democratic candidate for Senate, said he will make abortion a wedge issue against whoever his Republican opponent will be in the fall.

"Every single one of my GOP opponents supports extreme, restrictive anti-abortion laws. We cannot let them near the Senate," he said in a tweet Tuesday.

All of the Republican Senate candidates – J.D. Vance, Josh Mandel, Matt Dolan, Mike Gibbons, Jane Timken, Mark Pukita and Neil Patel – oppose abortion rights. Some of them signaled an eagerness to debate the issue in the fall.

"Ban abortions, not AR-15s," Mandel said in a tweet Tuesday.

Other Republicans criticized Ryan for hopping on a leaked court opinion that may not be the final ruling.

The Democratic candidate "is already using the insane leak for the Supreme Court to raise money. Vile, disgusting, and useless," tweeted Bernie Moreno, a former Republican Senate candidate who dropped out of the race in February.

Republicans split on Senate race

For Republicans, especially those who support Trump, the big question was whether they could support Vance and whether the former president's lack of an endorsement in the Republican governor's race – the only statewide race where Trump didn't pick a favorite – meant anything more than a casual snub. 

Deliberating on who was best to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, Republican voters were divided among the seven candidates on the ballot.

FROM THE COURT:Supreme Court verifies authenticity of leaked opinion in abortion case but says decision not final

Public polls showed Vance, author of the bestselling book "Hillbilly Elegy," leading in his primary after being endorsed by Trump on April 15. But the former president's support opened a nasty intraparty rebellion among right-leaning groups such as the Club for Growth, which vehemently opposed Vance in favor of Mandel.

Joseph Davidoski, 67, of Anderson Township said Vance receiving Trump’s support helped him decide. 

Others weren't so sure about the "Hillbilly Elegy" author, citing his comments criticizing Trump as "a total fraud" and labeling some supporters "racist."

"I've heard some things about Vance that I just didn't really care for," said Kerrie Clark, a part-time online teacher from Grove City. "I know he was endorsed by Trump, but I don't know. There's something about him that didn't sit right. Maybe that sounds crazy, but when something doesn't sit right with me, I just can't go with them."

A voter makes his picks on primary Election Day at Grove City Recreation Center in Grove City, Ohio on May 3, 2022.

She chose Gibbons, a Cleveland businessman.

Jerry Sparks, 52, of North Canton, was "absolutely" influenced by the former president, but he voted for Timken, former chair of the Ohio Republican Party because "she's fit for the job" and "follows Trump."

Warren Harding, 46, of Anderson Township, chose state Sen. Dolan because he was the only Republican who didn't chase Trump's endorsement. 

“It’s nice to see certain candidates that just aren’t beholden to a person rather than ideals that I think would benefit society as a whole,” Harding said, adding he feels traditional Republican values have been lost.

Kondik, the political analyst, said there have been changes in the Ohio electorate that represent a larger shift in national politics.

"One of them has been the movement of more white college graduates into the Democratic Party and the shift of more white, working-class voters … to the Republican camp," he said. "And Ohio is, as you know, more of a white, working-class state than the nation as a whole, so that got supercharged under Trump."

Ryan has strong support as abortion rises

Ryan has consistently led the pack in the Democratic Senate primary, and voters said Tuesday that they thought the moderate from northeast Ohio would have the best chance in November. 

Jordy Mason who is running for Franklin County Central Committee Grove City Ward Two checks voter tally list on Election Day at Grove City Recreation Center in Grove City, Ohio on May 3, 2022.

“I like Morgan (Harper, an attorney), but she needs to get into office someplace before she goes for Senate," said Mary Ellen Burns, a retired teacher from the Westgate area near Columbus. "It’s like jumping into the big leagues right away.”

Mike Credur and Larry Hall, a central Ohio gay couple who have been together for 29 years, also picked Ryan and worried the Supreme Court might reverse their rights next. 

“The Republican Party is slowly turning everything back 50, 100 years," Credur said. "They’re just taking away human rights. It’s the most unpatriotic party I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’m 67 years old.”

As soon as the news spread that Politico had a copy of a draft Supreme Court decision that would overturn Roe v. Wade, Democrats across Ohio started reacting, especially in the race for governor.

“It has never been more important to elect a genuinely pro-choice candidate to be Ohio’s next governor," former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said in a statement. "If you care about reproductive rights, we need your vote tomorrow – full stop."

Whaley supports abortion access, but her challenger for the Democratic nomination to be governor, former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, started his political career as a "pro-life Democrat," a fact Emily's List, a political action committee that tries to get female abortion rights supporters in office, hammered when he entered the race last year. 

"Any Democrat who goes into the voting booth today has abortion at the center of their thoughts, and that certainly advantages Nan Whaley,” University of Cincinnati political professor David Niven said. 

Cranley, who started supporting abortion access after having children with his wife, called the news from Washington "an outrageous attack on the dignity and freedom of all women."

Many still like Mike DeWine

Gov. Mike DeWine took criticism from his own party during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but GOP voters said they still supported him in the primary. 

“I think Mike DeWine has done a pretty good job with everything during his term,” Harding said.

And so did Sparks who wore a ball cap depicting a handgun and the words "Protected by the 2nd Amendment" outside the North Canton Civic Center. 

Even Democratic voters Sara and Robert Frato, who picked Whaley for governor, said they appreciated DeWine's leadership during the pandemic. 

"We are not Republican, but we felt DeWine did a good job," Sarah Frato said.

DeWine faces former Congressman Jim Renacci, farmer Joe Blystone and former state Rep. Ron Hood in the GOP primary for governor.

Hood ran a low-level campaign, and Blystone didn't raise a lot of money. Still, the political newcomer Blystone had supporters in Marion County.

Dane Williams, 19, voted for the first time Tuesday and picked Blystone because he was “definitely a guy who isn’t in it just for the money.”

“He is not a shill for the other party. He is for the people, by the people," Williams said. "He cares about the people. He’s not run by the government, strictly the people.”