Super Tuesday marks not only an important day for the Republican presidential campaign, but also kicks off the 2012 congressional elections. Ohio holds its statewide vote on that date, making it the earliest congressional vote in the nation. Originally Texas also was scheduled for March 6, but legal wrangling over redistricting has postponed that primary to much later in the year.
Of Ohio’s 16 congressional districts, a trio of Ohio US House primary contests will, for all intents and purposes, elect new members for the 113th Congress next week:
OH-2: The Schmidt Challenge
In the Cincinnati-anchored 2nd District, four-term Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) faces surgeon Brad Wenstrup and two other minor Republican candidates. Wenstrup challenged Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory in 2009 and managed to score 46 percent of the citywide vote. He has not been particularly aggressive in this race against Rep. Schmidt, however, raising slightly under $245,000 for his primary challenge according to the pre-primary Federal Election Commission filing that was due Feb. 15. As revealed in the report, he had only $103,000 left to spend for the final drive. Schmidt, on the other hand, had raised just under $600,000 for the race.
Though Wenstrup has an apparent base in the eastern part of Cincinnati, an area he carried in the mayoral race and which is part of the new OH-2 congressional district, he has little presence in the six rural southwestern Ohio counties that comprise the remainder of the seat. Though Schmidt has never fully solidified her hold on the 2nd District since her original 2005 special election victory when she replaced Sen. Rob Portman (R) as he departed Congress to become President George W. Bush’s US trade ambassador and then budget director, she should comfortably turn back the Wenstrup challenge.
OH-3: Will Kilroy Return?
Turning to the new 3rd District in Columbus, former one-term Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) is attempting to return to Congress in this newly created, heavily Democratic district. In the 2001 redistricting plan, there was no planned Democratic seat in the Columbus area, an odd situation for a major city that has, as the state capital, a large government employee population and hosts a major university (Ohio State). As a result, two seats that were originally intended for Republican incumbents were becoming highly competitive. The 2011 Republican redistricting plan to concede a new open Columbus seat to the Democrats allows the GOP to protect both the 12th (Rep. Pat Tiberi) and the 15th CDs (Rep. Steve Stivers) for the ensuing decade.
Such being the case, next Tuesday’s election will choose the new 3rd District member. Kilroy is being challenged by former state House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty, now in an administration position at Ohio State, and state Rep. Ted Celeste, the brother of former Gov. Richard Celeste.
Kilroy released an early poll giving her a huge lead, but Beatty countered last week saying her internal Public Policy Polling survey places her just one point behind the former congresswoman 34-35 percent. Beatty did not release the actual PPP study, however, so it is difficult to determine its methodology and questionnaire. Celeste is a distant third in all scenarios.
Ms. Beatty, an African-American in a district where blacks account for more than 28 percent of the population and a much greater percentage in a Democratic primary, is a substantial candidate and a threat to derail Kilroy’s comeback attempt. Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, himself once mentioned as a possible candidate for this congressional seat, has endorsed Beatty, which may prove important in terms of turning out the primary vote.
OH-9: Kaptur vs. Kucinich
The new 9th District, which stretches from Cleveland to Toledo along the Lake Erie shoreline, features a Democratic paired-incumbent contest between Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich.
Kaptur represents at least 100,000 additional constituents in the new 9th than does Kucinich. While keeping the larger Cuyahoga communities of Parma (population 77,274) and Lakewood (50,251), Kucinich loses North Olmstead (31,053), Westlake (30,331), and Garfield Heights (27,479). Kaptur, on the other hand, retains her entire Toledo (316,238 inhabitants) base. She also keeps Ottawa and Erie Counties, as well.
Though Kucinich has raised more money during the current election cycle than did Kaptur ($965,000 to $370,000), she has a very large cash-on-hand advantage, due to her many years of service on the important appropriations committee.
Endorsements favor Kaptur. Never representing any part of the Cleveland metropolitan area, the congresswoman has won the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper endorsement. This is likely due more to Kucinich’s unpopularity than Kaptur’s positive image but, regardless, this is an important endorsement in a Democratic primary. She also receives public support from Republican former senator and governor George Voinovich. This carries some weight, even in a Democratic primary, because Voinovich was the Mayor of Cleveland before running statewide. His imprimatur provides her one more Cleveland credential. Conversely, Kucinich has been endorsed by the Cuyahoga Democratic Club, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt, singer Willie Nelson, and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA-4), thus indicating the flavor of the campaign.
Kucinich also is drawing flack about his foray into running from another state. When the national reapportionment was announced and it became known just how poorly Ohio fared, Kucinich, knowing that his seat would become a redistricting casualty, stated that he would not run against another incumbent and actually started searching for open seats in Washington and Hawaii. He said he had done well in those two states during his presidential campaign, and thus had a base of support in each place. This bizarre idea quickly faded, and he “returned” to Cleveland to challenge another Democratic incumbent, after all. But the locals haven’t forgotten.
Now, in his first advertisement of the campaign, a radio ad running only in Cleveland, Kucinich actually attacks “Toledo politics” inferring that the city is corrupt – the place that is now the largest community in his new district.
With the March 6th primary election fast approaching, there is nothing to suggest that anything other than a convincing Kaptur victory will result. Considering Kucinich was only able to muster 50.32 percent of the 2008 Democratic primary vote against four opponents in his own CD-10, it becomes evident that even his Cuyahoga base is weak. It is already becoming clear that Dennis Kucinich will become the first incumbent electoral casualty of the 2012 election season.