November 3, 2021 - Republican Mike Carey won the special election for Ohio's 15th Congressional District on Tuesday, securing GOP control of the seat as Republicans fight to take back Congress next year.
Carey led Democratic state Rep. Allison Russo with 58.3% of the roughly 160,000 votes cast, according to unofficial results. He will take office immediately and replaces former Republican Rep. Steve Stivers, who left Congress in May to lead the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
Mike Carey (R) speaks to his supporters as live results come in announcing him the winner during Carey’s watch party for the results of the 15th Congressional District election at The Mill event center in Lancaster, Ohio, on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
Photo: Alie Skowronski, Columbus Dispatch
Carey, a coal lobbyist who lives in Columbus, faces a quick turnaround to run for reelection in 2022.
"I wanted to be somebody that could go and make a difference in Washington," he told a crowd of supporters Tuesday night in Lancaster. "Believe me, we have too many career politicians in Washington. That’s the last thing that I will ever be."
Carey was favored to win in a district that leans Republican by 9 points in the Cook Partisan Voter Index, but his victory is still a boon for the party as it gears up for 2022. It's also a boost to the endorsement power of former President Donald Trump, who backed Carey during a crowded primary and spoke on his behalf during a telephone rally on Monday.
Carey had help from other key Republicans in boosting his campaign. Former Vice President Mike Pence and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy visited the district to stump for him in recent weeks, while the National Republican Congressional Committee funneled money toward his campaign.
Longtime Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski is a friend of Carey's and helped secure the former president's endorsement. A political action committee spearheaded by Lewandowski spent $23,000 late in the race to go after Russo, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Carey said he spoke with Trump Tuesday night, adding that the former president was "very happy with the votes."
"Congratulations to Mike Carey on a fantastic victory in Ohio," Trump said in an emailed statement. "I am very proud to have endorsed him early and strongly. He will be a great congressman!"
The 15th District spans suburban Columbus to Athens, encompassing rural counties like Pickaway, Fairfield and Hocking. The boundaries will be redrawn in the coming weeks as part of the state's redistricting process.
Carey previously worked for American Consolidated Natural Resources, formerly known as Murray Energy, and wore multiple hats at the Ohio Coal Association. Russo, of Upper Arlington, was first elected to the state Legislature in 2018 after flipping her suburban district from red to blue.
Despite the GOP advantage, Russo appeared to make the race competitive in its final weeks. She outraised Carey in the most recent spending period and secured an endorsement from President Joe Biden. She also aired multiple television ads that attacked Carey's ties to the House Bill 6 scandal and criticized him for declining to participate in debates.
Still, it wasn't enough to pull off an upset win. Russo fell short of the early votes she needed in Democratic Franklin County, and Carey predictably dominated in the district's rural, conservative counties.
"There's a real need for these investments in communities, for critical infrastructure, making sure that we're addressing the health care needs of people throughout the district, and opportunity," Russo said before polls closed. "At the end of the day, this is really why I ran for Congress is because people just want access to opportunity."
Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.