With Ohio’s March 17 primary elections rapidly approaching, the Editorial Board anticipates that many students are well-prepared to make a selection in the presidential race — especially given that the Democratic campaign has narrowed to two viable challengers, Senator Bernie Sanders and Former Vice President Joe Biden. However, many voters remain less informed about the developments in local races.
In particular, we are tracking the race to nominate a Democratic congressional candidate for this fall’s general election. Currently, three Democrats are competing for the nomination: moderates Shannon Freshour and Jeff Sites, and self-described progressive Mike Larsen.
All three hope to beat Congressperson Jim Jordan in this November’s general election. While the Editorial Board is not at this time choosing to endorse a particular Democratic candidate, we do recognize the urgent need to remove Jordan from office.
Since 2006, the increasingly embattled Jordan has represented Ohio’s 4th congressional district, which currently includes Oberlin — although “represented” is a strong word. Jordan is best known for his hardline conservative politics, unquestioning support of President Donald Trump, and controversies surrounding his time as a wrestling coach at The Ohio State University, when he allegedly participated in covering up instances of sexual misconduct.
Despite recent negative media attention, Jordan’s strong hold on the district appears as durable as ever. In 2014, 2016, and 2018, Jordan was challenged by former schoolteacher and Oberlin resident Janet Garrett. Each time, Garrett received roughly a third of the vote, despite growing from a write-in campaign in 2014 to developing a full-blown campaign infrastructure in 2018.
The consistency of Garrett’s losses says less about her performance as a candidate and more about how the shape of the district has created a firm ceiling for any Democratic congressional hopeful. For decades, Ohio Republicans have conducted a masterclass in partisan gerrymandering, and despite the fact that fair redistricting is hopefully on the horizon — especially following this year’s census count — Oberlin remains, for the time being, in a district that has little hope of electing a Democrat in a one-on-one race against Jordan.
Enter Chris Gibbs. An Ohio farmer and former Trump voter, Gibbs lost faith in the president’s vision after seeing the administration fail to fulfill its promises to his fellow Ohio farmers. Gibbs also sees Trump as instilling a sense of division among different groups of people that Gibbs believes should otherwise be uniting around their shared values.
Gibbs’ politics are conservative — more conservative than the district’s Democratic voters, and certainly more conservative than the average Oberlin student. Still, there’s good reason for Oberlin students, and other liberal voters across the state, to support Gibbs’ efforts to get onto the ballot as an independent candidate.
Currently, Gibbs is seeking the signatures of 2,600 Ohio residents in order to qualify for November’s general election, and getting his name on the ballot seems to be one of very few feasible paths to beat Jordan in November. Essentially, a Democrat can’t overcome the district’s gerrymandered boundaries alone. But with the help of a spoiler candidate like Gibbs, it is possible — although still unlikely — that the conservative vote could be split to the point that a Democrat could land a plurality of voters and take Jordan down.
We understand that throwing any level of support behind a candidate whose politics you disagree with is a big ask in a divisive political landscape. It’s important to note that we are not necessarily advocating that Oberlin community members vote for Gibbs — or any other candidate, for that matter. We’re advocating for a path to free the communities of the 4th congressional district from Jordan’s irresponsible and embarrassing leadership. And, short of complete and fair redistricting that we hope is still on the way, it seems like introducing a third candidate into the November election — one who appears to have significant potential to siphon votes from Jordan — seems like the best path to get there.
It’s a small glimmer of hope, to be sure, but it’s worth helping Gibbs get onto the ballot in order to see how many Ohioans choose not to support Jordan’s leadership when they’re presented with another option. Students and community members interested in helping Gibbs qualify for the general election can get in touch with his campaign through his social media channels. It’s important to remember that helping gather qualifying signatures does not constitute a commitment to vote.
If Gibbs qualifies for the November general election, the rest will be up to the voters. Let’s see what happens if we get him there — it certainly can’t be worse than what we have now.