COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — This week, NBC4 is digging deep into the minds of voters in Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, a mix of Columbus, some of its suburbs, and a large swath of rural southeastern Ohio.

The race for OH-15 is the only federal race on the ballot in central Ohio when polls open in exactly two weeks, and an NBC4 poll in partnership with Emerson College sheds some light on what likely voters are thinking.

State Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington), the Democrat looking to replace retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, is favored by voters 31.9% to 30.2%, but that slim margin is well ahead of her opponent. Republican Mike Carey is unfavored by 15th District voters, 41.1% to 30.4%.

(See the bottom of this story for details about the poll.)

But here’s where the two split: When asked who they would vote for if the election were held today, about half of those polled in this Republican-leaning district would choose Carey. That’s 11.1% more than Russo, although the remaining 11.1% are still undecided.

Those undecided voters, however, are leaning toward Carey by nearly 20 percentage points:

Surprisingly, with early voting already underway and the election just 14 days away on Nov. 2, nearly 3 in 10 voters had no opinion of Russo, according to the Emerson/NBC4 poll, and neither did almost 2 in 10 voters of Carey. Also, about 9% of those polled had never heard of either candidate.

That means 30-to-40% of district voters have no opinion or no knowledge of the candidates. So let’s meet them.

Meet the candidates for OH-15

Mike Carey grew up in Sabina, a small town southwest of Columbus between Wilmington and Washington Court House. He earned a U.S. Army ROTC scholarship and served as an officer while earning his bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University.

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Mike Carey, candidate for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, speaks at a rally hosted by former President Donald Trump after receiving his endorsement on June 26, 2021 in Wellington, Ohio. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Carey went on to work for American Consolidated Natural Resources, a St. Clairsville-based coal company — one of the nation’s largest — formerly known as Murray Energy. He lobbied for the coal industry as the company’s vice president of government affairs and as chairman of the Ohio Coal Association. Carey also helped develop negative campaign ads against Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry and Barack Obama and in opposition to climate legislation.

The Republican vows to fight against President Joe Biden’s agenda, saying he favors strong borders, lowering taxes, fair trade, and is the candidate endorsed by former President Donald Rrump.

Allison Russo was also raised in a small town — in Mississippi — by a single mother. She is a military spouse and a public health professional, earning a doctor of public health from George Washington University.

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State Rep. Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) speaks on a bill at the Ohio Capitol, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins)

She says she focused her career on helping veterans, families and seniors get access to health care while working as a policy analyst for the U.S. defense and health departments.

Russo has served in the Ohio House of Representatives since 2019, representing the 24th district. She says she has taken on corruption, fought for women and families, and she vows to work to lower health care costs. Russo also supports the Biden infrastructure plan but says she will be an independent voice on Capitol Hill.

NBC4 spoke to Russo about the poll results, while Carey’s campaign responded instead with a statement. See both below:

“On November 2nd, voters will make clear that radical politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Allison Russo do not represent their values and will reject them at the ballot box. Mike Carey has earned the trust of groups representing law enforcement, small businesses, and farmers, and we are confident that the people of Ohio’s Fifteenth Congressional District will place their trust in him as well.”

Blaine Kelly, Mike Carey’s campaign manager

About the poll

Emerson College conducted the poll Oct. 14-16 among 445 likely voters living in the 15th District. The overall margin of error is +/- 4.6 percentage points.

For most polls, you can read the margin of error (MoE) like this: If the poll were to be done again 100 times, in 95 of those times the results would be within “X” percentage points of the original.

So let’s say a national poll of a sampling of registered voters, with an MoE of +/- 3, has:

  • Joe Biden at 53%
  • Donald Trump at 47%

  • You can be 95% certain that a hypothetical poll of all registered U.S. voters would yield results between these extremes:

  • Biden 56/Trump 44 (+3 more for Biden, -3 fewer for Trump)
  • Trump 50/Biden 50 (+3 more for Trump, -3 fewer for Biden)
  • The sample of voters is representative of the district's party affiliation makeup. The poll also weights for gender, age, education, race and region based on 2020 turnout modeling. Polling was conducted via landline phone and text-to-web.