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Blog Home Page --> House -- Ohio -- 15

Dem Up In OH Open Seat

Having come within 1,100 votes of knocking off incumbent Republican Deborah Pryce in 2006, Democrats had high hopes this year for Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy in a district based in the western suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. A new poll conducted for Kilroy's campaign shows the Democrat leading her opponent by a wide margin, though the race is likely to finish as one of the most closely contested in the country.

The survey, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group for Kilroy's campaign, polled 516 likely voters between 5/20-22 for a margin of error of +/- 4.3%. Kilroy, State Senator Steve Stivers, her likely GOP opponent, and independent candidate Donald Eckhart were tested.

General Election Matchup

Generic Dem......45
Generic GOPer...37

That Kilroy is ahead is good news for her campaign, but better news is that, in a climate that heavily favors Democratic candidates, she actually runs ahead of the generic Democrat in her district. After a nasty campaign last time around, Kilroy finished the race with upside down favorables; Benenson reports 40% of the district had a favorable impression of her and 43% had an unfavorable view. Now, those views are reset, and 44% see her favorably compared with 34% who view her unfavorably.

Still, it's never good when a candidate starts off a race with 34% of the district viewing her unfavorably. And Stivers is a very strong candidate: Ask most national Republican strategists who their best House recruit is and his name is close to the top.

The race will be expensive for both candidates. Kilroy had already raised north of $1.2 million, through the March 31 filing deadline, and held $944,000 in reserve. Stivers, who jumped in the race considerably later after Pryce announced her retirement, had already banked $788,000 and kept almost $600,000 on hand through the same period. In 2006, Kilroy and Pryce spent a combined $7.4 million on the seat, and it could cost that much again this year.

While President Bush won the seat by a wide eight-point margin in 2000, he managed just a 2,300-vote win in 2004. As the district continues to trend Democratic, it might be difficult for Republicans to hold on, though with Stivers they certainly gave themselves the best shot to do so.

Previewing Ohio Primaries

While Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton battle for the Democratic nomination in Ohio on March 4, several congressional primaries are raging in the background. With three open seats, one filled by special election, and a few vulnerable incumbents, the make-up of the state's congressional delegation in 2009 is up in the air.

Republican Reps. David Hobson, Deborah Pryce and Ralph Regula are retiring at the end of the 110th Congress, leaving a couple competitive seats the GOP will need to fight to retain. In the 5th District, Rep. Paul Gillmor's death in September brought on what was thought to be a competitive special election, though Republican Bob Latta easily won the seat.

In the 2nd District, Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt is one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country, even though President Bush carried the district with 64% in 2004. Since coming to Congress through a 2005 special election, Schmidt has yet to carry an election by more than 5 points. Schmidt defeated Democrat Paul Hackett in 2005 by 4,000 votes. In 2006 she won the Republican primary by a similar margin, and then defeated Democrat Victoria Wulsin in the general election by just 2,500 votes, despite outspending her 2-to-1.

Schmidt caught a huge break a month ago when former Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich dropped his bid for the Republican nomination. By the end of 2007 Heimlich had more than $250,000 cash on hand, twice that of Schmidt. But the recent entrance to the race by State Rep. Tom Brinkman forced Heimlich to reconsider his chances due to the likelihood of a splintered vote.

However, if Schmidt wins the nomination, she will certainly face a tough and well-financed challenger in the general election. Wulsin, who also lost to Hackett in the 2005 Democratic special primary, is running again and in a heated primary race with attorney Steve Black, who last week loaned his campaign $195,000. Wulsin had raised $500,000 by the end of 2007 and had about $350,000 in the bank.

In the 16th District, no one under 35 years old was around when anyone but Regula represented them in Congress. State Senator Kirk Schuring is the favored candidate in the GOP primary in the district, just south of Cleveland, having received the incumbent's endorsement and a host of other local and state officials. Schuring, who has spent by far the most money of the Republican candidates, is in a three-person battle for the nomination.

The Republican winner will face the well-financed State Senator John Boccieri in the general election. Boccieri does not live in the district, and while he reportedly plans to move within district lines when the school year ends, he can expect to hear carpet-bagging attacks. The district leans Republican, as President Bush won 54% here in 2004, though in 2006 Regula garnered his lowest winning percentage since first coming to Congress in 1972. National Democrats are excited by Boccieri's chances, and they believe they have a real shot at the seat.

In the sprawling 7th District, Hobson has thrown his support behind state Senator Steve Austria, who raised about $300,000 more than any of the three other Republicans running for the nomination. The safely Republican district, which stretches from the southwest to the southeast of Columbus, gave President Bush 14-point margins in both his elections, and Democrats do not appear to be seriously contesting the seat. None of the six Democrats running were able to raise more than $10,000. The winner of the GOP primary figures to keep this traditionally Republican district in GOP hands.

Among the open Republican seats, Pryce's 15th District, just north of Hobson's and west of Columbus, is the most vulnerable to a Democratic challenge. President Bush won here in 2004 by some 2,000 votes, and in 2006 Pryce won by an even smaller margin against Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy.

A number of potential Republican candidates had declined to run following Pryce's August 2007 retirement announcement until State Senator Steve Stivers stepped into the ring in November. Kilroy had announced her candidacy almost immediately after conceding the close 2006 race.

Both candidates raised large sums of money through the end of 2007, with Kilroy topping $600,000 cash on hand. Stivers reported having $400,000 in the bank. Neither candidate will face a competitive primary, so both are already looking ahead to November.

Keep an eye on 1st District Republican Steve Chabot, whose district is based largely around Cincinnati. Chabot held off a well-financed challenge in 2006, and will face another tough general election race this year against State Rep. Steve Driehaus, who had some $400,000 cash on hand at the end of last year. Chabot, however, is in good shape financially, with $1 million in the bank.

6th District Democrat Charlie Wilson, whose massive district spans from Youngstown along the border with Pennsylvania and West Virginia to the southern reaches of the state, could also face a difficult election. The freshman congressman won a write-in contest in the 2006 primary after a snafu kept him off the ballot.

-- Kyle Trygstad

GOP Gets Top OH-15 Recruit

Washington Republicans are thrilled to have scored what they call a top recruit in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce. Ohio State Sen. Steve Stivers will make the race, according to the National Republican Campaign Committee.

The GOP has been looking for a candidate since Pryce announced her retirement in August. Pryce beat Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy by just over 1,000 votes in 2006, and Kilroy, running again, has already raised an impressive $425,000 through the third quarter.

While pundits suggest that Pryce's seat is a top Democratic pickup opportunity, NRCC officials are excited about Stivers' prospects. "Steve Stivers' decision to jump into the race is proof positive of how the Democrat-led Congress' record low approval rating is negatively affecting the election hopes for their candidates in 2008. If I'm Mary Jo Kilroy, I'm wondering what the Democrats in Washington have gotten me in to," said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain.

Stivers was appointed to the State Senate in 2003 and won his initial retainment election with 57.6% to a Democrat's 33.7%. His 16th State Senate District comprises the western third of Franklin County, which holds a large part of the Congressional District's population. Still, Democrats point out that Stivers has never faced a competitive election, and that leaves them in good spirits. With Stivers' entry, Kilroy remains the favorite, but the GOP at least has a quality candidate with an electoral base to give her a run for her money.

Kilroy Cruising?

When a member of Congress announces his or her retirement, especially in a contentious district, the incumbent party often faces a burden in avoiding a contentious primary, supporting a first-time candidate financially and reestablishing the good will the incumbent brought.

In Ohio's 15th District, where Rep. Deborah Pryce announced her retirement in August, Republicans face an even more basic challenge: Finding a candidate to begin with. The GOP has thus far failed to recruit any serious candidate, though the NRCC maintains it is a top priority. "We will have an A-list candidate sooner rather than later," NRCC press secretary Ken Spain told the Columbus Dispatch more than a month ago.

Strong candidates including former Attorney General Jim Petro, former Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka, state Rep. Jim Hughes and State Sen. Steve Stivers have all passed on the opportunity. Only Aaron Wheeler, a pastor at Mountaintop Missionary Baptist Church, has declared on the GOP side.

Democrats will again back Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy, who lost to Pryce by less than one half of one percent -- just over 1000 votes -- in 2006. Kilroy has already raised more than $425,000 this year, and maintains $380,000 cash on hand, albeit with $62,000 in debt. This morning, she got more good news when EMILY's List, a powerful Washington-based group dedicated to electing pro-choice women to Congress, announced they would back her campaign.

Kilroy raised more than $2.7 million in 2006, and with EMILY's List's backing, she can expect similarly strong financial support this year.

President Bush won the district by fewer than 2500 votes, out of more than 300,000 cast, making the district one of the most competitive in the nation. But all that may not matter if Kilroy finds herself with little more than token opposition come November.