Despite infighting, Ohio House leader loses GOP friends but may preserve leadership.

Columbus — Republican Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens' opponents defeated four of his friends, including one of his leadership team, in primary elections, but they were still one short of the number needed to overthrow his majority in the next legislative session. A heated chamber control war remains.

Senate President Matt Huffman, who was unchallenged in Tuesday's primary for a western Ohio House district and is expected to win the seat in fall, has publicly expressed his desire to be speaker. Stephens' January 2023 speaker win sparked intraparty skirmishing in commercials, endorsements, and campaign funding throughout the primary season.

According to campaign finance records, Lima Republican Huffman gave to incumbents who voted for Stephens' speaker opponent, state Rep. Derek Merrin. Incumbents continue to criticize Stephens as speaker. Some conservative senators publicly endorsed various Stephens rivals.

Stephens used millions from the Ohio House Republican Alliance's campaign finances to run ads criticizing Republicans who ran against his allies and “the Merrin camp.” Merrin's backers Reps. Phil Plummer and Ron Ferguson are suing to take control.

Since the speaker battle last year, Republican infighting has lingered, and despite GOP supermajorities in both chambers, the Legislature passed the fewest laws since the 1950s. Stephens was elected speaker by 32 Democrats and 21 state House Republicans. Around half of Stephens' original backers, known as the “Blue 22,” faced Merrin-backed opponents in Tuesday's primary.

Stephens could only afford to lose four of the Blue 22 in the primary, which he did, to maintain his narrow power base, largely House Democratic support. He has a 50-49 majority in the 99-member House, where he's gained some support since the speaker race to make up for those not running for reelection.

Rep. Sara Carruthers from Butler County was the closest to Diane Mullins, a preacher who has mentioned antisemitic conspiracy theories in her church and advised her audience not to read secular news. Mullins won 53% over Carruthers.

Eastern Ohio state Rep. Brett Hillyer lost to Jodi Salvo, director of substance use prevention services at OhioGuidestone, with 59% of the vote; Portage County Rep. Gail Pavliga lost to Heidi Workman, a self-employed business professional with 61%; and Hancock County Rep. Jon Cross lost to National Guard member Ty Mathews with 66%. Stephens must succeed Cross as assistant majority floor leader in 2025.

Merrin, who is term-limited in the state House, is the Republican nominee for Ohio's 9th Congressional District with former President Donald Trump's backing. He will face Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur in November. Bitter political attacks for House control are nothing new in Ohio.

The most dramatic example was in 2018, when former Speaker Larry Householder spent hundreds of millions of dollars in bribe money from Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. to elect his allies, secure his speakership, and pass House Bill 6, a $1 billion bailout of FirstEnergy subsidiary nuclear plants. Householder was sentenced to 20 years for the legislation's role in Ohio's greatest corruption case. He appealed the sentence.

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