Morgan Harper’s underdog in the Ohio Senate offers a fresh start
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Just before the rain started falling on a cloudy Thursday, Morgan Harper was able to do something she’s been waiting for since launching her U.S. Senate campaign in August.
“Hi, I’m Morgan. I’m running for US Senate. Have you heard of this?” she said after knocking on the house from a door in suburban Columbus.
Harper says she gets an adrenaline rush when she knocks on the door to talk politics.
The progressive activist and lawyer calls it “Morganizing”.
“Do I have your vote? she asked a retired firefighter who replied.
“Of course you do,” he told her.
A central theme of the 38-year-old Democrat’s campaign is the need for new leadership. It’s a direct hit to his main primary opponent, Northeast Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who’s been in the job since 2003.
“20 years of representation has brought us next to nothing,” Harper told a handful of supporters who showed up at Nelson Park for a canvassing event.
Harper faces an uphill battle against Ryan, who tops her by millions and tops her by double digits.
It’s similar to her first campaign in 2020, when she challenged incumbent Democratic Rep. Joyce Beatty in her Columbus district. Harper has dropped nearly 40 points – she blames COVID-19 lockdowns as part of the reason.
Spectrum News asked Harper why voters should believe she could win a statewide race when she didn’t perform well in the heavily Democratic 3rd Congressional District.
“Well, our last campaign, it was a really good expression of what’s possible when you connect with a lot of different types of people,” Harper said in an interview at her campaign headquarters.
That didn’t translate to votes in this race, but she hopes it will this time around.
Harper spends her days hosting panel discussions and listening sessions with often overlooked groups.
In Westerville, she met with leaders of the New American Resource Center, which provides mental health services to immigrants and refugees.
“This issue is silently killing us,” one participant told her.
Harper links the concerns she hears to her support for progressive policies, including the Green New Deal and universal health care.
“Everyone says very consistent things, about how we do things doesn’t really work for enough of us,” she said. “And we need more resources at the community level and really supporting the grassroots.”
That same day, Harper hosted a roundtable at the Lincoln Cafe in Columbus to discuss access to housing.
“I’m on disability, but it’s not enough for rent and bills,” one person said at the event.
An elderly woman explained her current living situation.
” The ceilings [are] to fall. The refrigerator is not working,” she said.
Harper told them that the government should guarantee opportunities for all. She highlights her work as a senior adviser for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the administration of former President Barack Obama.
“There are answers to all of that,” Harper told the group. “It’s not complicated, is it? We have the resources. So let’s just make sure everyone has accommodation.
As a progressive who swings far to the left, Harper faces a monumental challenge in a state that former President Donald Trump has won twice by eight points.
The small groups she met with last week liked what she had to say and that she introduced herself.
“She’s trying to stand up for people who can’t really stand up for themselves,” said Damon Blanchard, a Columbus resident who attended the housing roundtable.
After the listening session at the New American Resource Center, the organization’s CEO said he appreciated Harper for volunteering his time.
“She steps in, learns and asks me questions,” Liban Bule told Spectrum News.
Dejuan Sharp, a veteran who struggled to find affordable housing, said, “If you put the holidays aside and just vote for the best person to help us, I think they’re going to win.
But top Democrats across the state are rallying behind Ryan, who is pushing a more moderate, economy-focused platform.
Harper berates him for taking corporate PAC money and says he’s just the status quo.
“People don’t want just another politician in an empty suit,” Harper said. “They want real leadership, and that’s what I’m offering the people of Ohio.”
She’s wanted to debate him for months, but Ryan has so far pushed back.
So Harper instead took on Republican front-runner Josh Mandel, a former state treasurer who is pursuing his third Senate bid.
The pair met at an abortion protest in Mason last fall and have since debated twice.
Critics say the highly charged events are a farce, but Harper argues they are necessary.
“I want the people of Ohio to know exactly who this person is, what the threat is, what’s at stake in this election, so they are motivated to participate,” Harper told Spectrum News. “And it’s an exercise that we need to do as early and as often as possible.”
It’s part of his larger goal of motivating voters to give him a chance.
“I’m 38 and old enough to be in the United States Senate,” she joked with a woman as she knocked on doors. “These are all questions I get a lot.”