Aug 16, 2023 - Election

LaRose becomes political target after Issue 1 flop

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose

Ohio Secretary of State and U.S. Senate candidate Frank LaRose at a D.C. news conference in July. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Republican Frank LaRose had a lot on the line when voters went to the polls on Aug. 8.

  • As secretary of state, it was his responsibility to ensure a smooth election day and encourage citizens to cast ballots.
  • Meanwhile, as a major Issue 1 supporter and U.S. Senate candidate, he publicly urged a yes vote on the only ballot item, which would have raised the threshold for constitutional amendment passage to 60%.

Why it matters: The collision of LaRose's professional and personal interests has made him a central target across the political spectrum following the demise of Issue 1.

State of play: Just as Issue 1 was a proxy for November's abortion rights amendment, LaRose's support was a proxy for his Senate campaign hopes in 2024.

  • It was a high risk, high reward strategy ā€” victory last Tuesday could have helped thwart the abortion amendment and made LaRose a hero among anti-abortion conservatives.

Instead, LaRose became the face of defeat in a 14-point drubbing that cost Ohio taxpayers $20 million.

  • Ohio Democrats are calling him "Issue 1's biggest loser."
  • Fellow GOP Senate candidate Bernie Moreno's campaign called the special election result a "preview of what would happen with Frank LaRose at the top of the ticket in 2024," per NBC News.
  • The Libertarian Party even filed a Hatch Act complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel alleging LaRose's support for Issue 1 was illegal because of his role as secretary of state.

The big picture: It's not uncommon for secretaries of state to comment on political issues, said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

  • But it is notable that this involved a chief elections officer taking a stand on an elections issue, he told Axios two days after the election.

What he's saying: LaRose defended his actions to WKYC-TV by claiming all campaign work was done on his "personal time."

  • After abandoning his secretary of state media availability on election day because of protesters at his polling place, LaRose spun the Issue 1 result as part of a broader fight "to protect Ohio's values."
A tweet from Ohio Secretary of State issuing a statement on Issue 1 after the election was called.
A tweet showcasing Frank LaRose's simultaneous professional and personal interests: an Ohio Secretary of State statement that also features his U.S. Senate campaign logo. Via Twitter.

Between the lines: Though LaRose hitched himself to a losing cause, Kondik thinks the statewide campaigning may have helped build name recognition with GOP voters.

  • Voters' memories are short and the fate of November's abortion rights amendment is likely to overshadow the result of this special election.

What we're watching: The extent of LaRose's involvement with the anti-abortion rights campaign this fall.

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