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Eastern Ohio voters are deciding who will fill a congressional seat left vacant for months

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Voters in Ohio’s sprawling 6th District along the Ohio River will decide Tuesday who will fill a U.S. House seat that’s been vacant since January.

That’s when longtime Republican Rep. Bill Johnson left to become president of Youngstown State University.

GOP state Sen. Michael Rulli and Democratic political newcomer Michael Kripchak are facing off in Tuesday’s special election for the remainder of Johnson’s unexpired term, which runs through the end of the year. The two candidates will match up again in November’s general election for the two-year term beginning in January.

Rulli, 55, is a second-term state senator from Salem in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, where he directs operations for his family’s 100-year-old chain of grocery stores. Kripchak, 42, of Youngstown, is a local restaurant worker and former U.S. Air Force research science and acquisitions officer, actor and start-up operator.

Rulli significantly outraised and outspent Kripchak, in part with help from House conservatives like Reps. Jim Jordan and Bob Latta of Ohio.

The election is taking place under congressional maps that the Ohio Supreme Court previously ruled unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans. The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio and others, told the high court last year that it was willing to live with the U.S. House map approved March 2, 2022, and used in 2022 elections, “in lieu of the continued turmoil brought about by cycles of redrawn maps and ensuing litigation.”

Democrats netted wins under the map in 2022 — securing five of Ohio’s 15 U.S. House seats, compared to the four of 16 they had held previously. Ohio lost one seat under the 2020 Census because of lagging population growth.

The 6th District, which runs through all or part of 11 counties ranging from urban to rural, leans nearly 59% Republican, according to Dave’s Redistricting App, a political mapmaking website. Its population center is Youngstown, in Mahoning County, whose once reliably Democratic blue-collar base has tacked right in recent years. When former President Donald Trump won the county in 2020, he was the first Republican to do so since the 1970s.

Julie Carr Smyth, The Associated Press

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