The presidential contest attracted all of the media attention last night, but the Ohio congressional nominating elections proved exciting in their own right. Two upsets in the three most seriously contested Buckeye State battlegrounds were recorded.
First, in the Cincinnati-anchored OH-2, four-term incumbent Rep. Jean Schmidt fell to surgeon Brad Wenstrup 49-43 percent in the GOP primary. Two other candidates accumulated a combined total of 10 percent. In a high turnout that will exceed 85,000 votes, Mr. Wenstrup became the first candidate to score a challenger victory, and that coming in the initial congressional primary contest of the year.
An outside organization, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which has the goal of defeating long-term incumbents in both parties in order to bring new blood to Congress, was heavily active here. In fact, some predict that the CPA efforts may be equivalent in spending to that of Wenstrup, himself. Through the Feb. 15 pre-primary FEC report, Wenstrup reported raising just under $245,000.
For her part, Ms. Schmidt, who seemed to run a non-existent campaign, may have taken renomination for granted. She was tagged with debt ceiling and certain tax votes, while supporting bank bail-out legislation that led to her husband’s business receiving such funding. She will continue to serve the balance of the remaining term.
We have to remember, though, that Mr. Wenstrup also ran a credible campaign for mayor of Cincinnati in 2009, scoring 46 percent against incumbent Mark Mallory (D). He carried seven of the city’s 26 wards against the mayor in that election, including three that comprise the heart of the 2nd District’s Cincinnati portion. Therefore, Wenstrup had a base in the city and also did well in Schmidt’s rural home turf, thus leading to his rather convincing victory. Mr. Wenstrup is the prohibitive favorite to win the seat in November.
In Columbus, the new 3rd District was drawn to elect a Democratic member in order to relieve electoral pressure from two area Republican lawmakers, and it has already hosted an upset victory. Former Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D), who lost her seat to Rep. Steve Stivers (R) in 2010, failed to win the OH-3 Democratic nomination battle in which she appeared to be favored. Former state House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty, with strong support from the African-American community and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, knocked out Kilroy, and also defeated Columbus City Councilwoman Priscilla Tyson and state Rep. Ted Celeste. The final percentages were 38-35-15-12 percent, respectively.
Kilroy was never a particularly strong member or candidate. She has now won one close congressional election and lost three, all since 2006. She had a high disapproval rating, which carried over even among her fellow Democrats as more than 60 percent of the low turnout chose someone other than the former incumbent. The heavily Democratic nature of the district will assure that Ms. Beatty will be elected to the House this fall.
In an election whose result wasn’t a particular surprise, though the early returns were surprisingly close, 15-term Rep. Marcy Kaptur crushed fellow Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich in the new 9th District that stretches from Cleveland to Toledo along the Lake Erie shoreline. Kaptur beat Kucinich 56-40 percent, with 4 percent going to businessman Graham Veysey. Kaptur is the prohibitive favorite in November. She will face Samuel Wurzelbacher (R), better known as “Joe the Plumber”, who won an uninspiring GOP 51-49 percent primary victory over auctioneer Steve Kraus last night.
With two upsets already recorded on the first night of the congressional primary season, it is likely that all House incumbents are taking serious note of these results. Once again, 2012 is proving to be a most interesting election year.