Democrats work to thwart Republican attempts to build larger majorities in Ohio House, Senate

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Minority Democrats in the state Legislature hope to keep the seats they have this fall as they face potential down-ticket fallout from their party's faltering gubernatorial candidate.

Ohioans will elect all 99 House members, along with 17 of 33 state senators, on Nov. 4.

Republicans have held their grip on the Senate since 1985 and are poised to keep it. The GOP holds a 60-39 advantage in the House, where Democrats are aiming to pick up several seats. Just one more would prevent Republicans from having enough members to place issues on the ballot and more easily pull off legislative maneuvers.

Gaining seats won't be easy for Democrats, who have trailed their Republican counterparts in campaign cash.

Turnout also could have an impact on their contests since they lack a strong top-of-the-ticket race to generate buzz among loyal Democratic voters.

Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic candidate for governor, suffered a series of political blows this summer. They include dismal fundraising, the departure of two top staffers and revelations that he lacked a permanent driver's license for more than a decade.

Democrats have expressed confidence in their candidates, citing previous victories in districts where President Barack Obama was unpopular.

"Our House races have been won on their merits," said Aaron Fisher, executive director of the Ohio House Democratic Caucus.

Fisher said candidates are highlighting their support for local governments, contending policies favored Republican Gov. John Kasich and the GOP-dominated Legislature have not helped average Ohioans.

Meanwhile, House Republican candidates are touting tax breaks they helped pass for small businesses along with a reduction in the statewide income tax rate.

"By and large, people see that the state is getting better, and they are giving Kasich the credit for that," said Mike Dittoe, a spokesman for the House GOP's campaign committee.

Some races to watch:

— Republican Sen. Gayle Manning of North Ridgeville faces a strong challenge from Democrat Marcus Madison, an Elyria councilman. Manning, a retired teacher, holds a seat in a northern Ohio Senate district that Obama won in 2012.

— Manning's son, Nathan, also of North Ridgeville, is running against Democrat Brendan Mackin of Avon Lake for an open House seat in northern Ohio. Both have similar backgrounds. Mackin is city prosecutor and assistant law director for Stow. Manning, a Republican, is city prosecutor for North Ridgeville.

— Democratic Rep. Nick Barborak of Lisbon won his eastern Ohio seat by a couple hundred votes in 2012. But Republicans hope Tim Ginter, a pastor and conference speaker from Salem, will reclaim the Columbiana County district for their party.

— Democrat Micah Kamrass, a former student body president at Ohio State, is competing against Cincinnati-area attorney Jonathan Dever to represent a southwestern Ohio district left open as state Rep. Connie Pillich runs for state treasurer.

— Summit County Councilwoman Paula Prentice is vying to unseat Republican Rep. Anthony DeVitis of Green in his Democrat-leaning district. Prentice, a Democrat from Green, also is a former teacher. DeVitis is a small business owner.

— Republican Rep. Andy Thompson of Marietta will face Democrat Charlie Daniels of St. Clairsville in a rematch of a 2012 race. Thompson topped Daniels, but his opponent has the same moniker as a country star and could draw voters in this Appalachian district.

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