Sabatos Crystal Ball

Ohio Races

House Outlook for 2008

Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?

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Ohio (01)

Outlook: Toss-up


July 21, 2008 Update:

In a normal year, a sitting member of Congress will most likely win a race if he keeps out of the headlines. Republican Steve Chabot has done just that, but merely staying gaffe-free may not be enough to win this November. Why? 2008 isn’t a “normal year” and Chabot’s district isn’t a normal district. With GOP popularity tanking and an African-American Democratic presidential nominee running for the first time, in a district that is more than a quarter black, Chabot has cause for concern.

Chabot’s Democratic challenger, state representative Steve Driehaus has raised almost $900,000 and is banking on an increased African-American turnout that could turn the tide against Chabot. In 2004, the most recent presidential election year, African Americans cast 25% of the ballots. In 2008, experts predict that Barack Obama’s candidacy could cause that number to rise to over 30%, garnering tens of thousands of more Democratic votes. Considering Chabot’s margin of victory in the last election was fewer than ten thousand votes, Republicans better buckle down in this battleground district.

Chabot’s own polls show Obama winning the district by a 7 percent margin, and Chabot himself wins just 50% of the vote in a head-to-head matchup with Driehaus, who trails with 37% according to Chabot’s most recent poll taken in early July. When things look so bleak that a poll showing the opposing party’s presidential nominee winning your district is the best news you can dredge up, it is time to prepare yourself for a fight. Chabot has done just that, with over $1.3 million in the bank. Still, will incumbency and currency trump demographics and party ID? Chabot hopes so.


Background

Veteran Representative Steve Chabot has a talent for beating back competitive challenges in difficult cycles. In 2006, he sent Cincinnati councilman Joseph Cranley packing by a larger-than-expected margin despite national and statewide Republican woes. This cycle, Chabot must fend off term-limited state representative Steve Driehaus who has earned a spot on the DCCC’s ”Races to Watch” list. The demographic makeup of the district—a 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans—makes any race potentially competitive, but Chabot has been here before and survived. Notably, the district has one of the largest African American populations of any Republican-held seat (about 30%), so high black turnout may benefit Driehaus should Barack Obama secure the presidential nomination.

Candidates

Steve Driehaus – Democrat – state legislator
Website

Steve Chabot (I) – Republican – current Congressman
Website

Ohio (02)

Outlook: Leans Republican


August 1, 2008 Update:

The race for Ohio’s Second isn’t just ugly; it’s downright unwatchable. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are there two less-popular candidates running two more unimpressive campaigns. Ohio Democrats have known that two-term incumbent Jean Schmidt was vulnerable since her unimpressive 2005 special election victory over Iraq vet Paul Hackett in a staunchly conservative district. Fortunately for Schmidt, Democrats have re-nominated Victoria Wilsun, a candidate who couldn’t win even in 2006’s Ohio Democratic wave.

Neither candidate has shown much improvement over last cycle. Schmidt has repeatedly stumbled over inaccurate claims of China drilling off the Cuban coast and accusations that her government-salaried Chief of Staff has campaigned at taxpayer expense. Unwilling to let the incumbent steal the spotlight, Wilsun has suffered embarrassments of her own. Earlier this cycle, she endured public criticism from the aforementioned Hackett over her poor campaign skills, and as of July, she has been left off the DCCC’s Red to Blue program, which includes virtually all competitive challengers nationwide.

Polling shows an electorate unsatisfied with either candidate. Although 41 percent back Schmidt and 33 percent favor Wilsun, the remaining 26 percent—startling for a rematch with two well-known choices—remain uncommitted or support third party candidates. Schmidt and Wilsun may take comfort in the fact that someone must win, but on election day, many voters will secretly wish to elect “None of the Above.”

June 3, 2008 Update:

Both nominees from 2006 survived primaries to set up a rematch this November. Incumbent Republican Jean Schmidt captured 57% of the vote in the March primary to sneak by into the general election. The Democrat’s 2006 nominee Victoria Wilsun performed with a similar level of mediocrity, garnering just 58% of votes in her primary. While Wilsun came within a hair’s breadth of winning in 2006, national Dems seem less than thrilled that she will be carrying the party banner again in 2008. Similarly, Schmidt draws the ire of some Republicans who note that the district votes over 60% for Republican presidential candidates but barely 50% for Schmidt. Neither party seems elated by the prospect of this matchup, but they one that comes out on top will be more than happy to congratulate the winner in November.


Background

Competitive primaries abound in this Republican-leaning Ohio district. Representative Jean Schmidt has had trouble ingratiating herself with Ohio voters ever since her narrow 2005 special election victory over Iraq veteran Paul Hackett. Last cycle’s one point victory over physician Victoria Wilsun only confirmed her vulnerability and opened the floodgates to potential challengers. As in 2005, Schmidt will again have to face state representative Tom Brinkman in the primary, but she dodged a bigger bullet when the better funded Hamilton county commissioner Phil Heimlich dropped out of the primary. The conservative Brinkman received 20 percent of the vote (third place) and exposed intra-party rifts within the district.

Democrats are hoping that the gaffe-prone Schmidt emerges with the nomination as they view her as the weaker of the two candidates to face either Wilsun, who is running again, or attorney Steve Black. Though Ohio’s second is a highly Republican district, as long as Schmidt remains its congresswoman, it will be vulnerable, but Democrats should not get their hopes up in a presidential year.

Candidates

Jean Schmidt (I) – Republican – current Congresswoman
Website

Vic Wulsin – Democrat – 2006 Democratic candidate, physician
Website

David Krikorian – Independent – businessman
Website

Ohio (15) (Open Seat)

Outlook: Toss-up


November 14, 2008 Update:

The race is still close to call as Republican Steve Stivers leads Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by fewer than 400 votes in a battle where thousands of provisional ballots are outstanding. Some of Stivers’ supporters have filed a lawsuit with the Ohio Supreme Court over the Democratic Secretary of State’s directive on how to tally provisional ballots.

November 7, 2008 Update:

The Republican Steve Stivers is leading by 146 votes with 100% of precincts reporting. But Franklin County has yet to finish counting provisional ballots and the results from those are not expected until next week.

June 3, 2008 Update:

Democrats feel that this race represents a great opportunity to capture a Red seat in a battleground district in a battleground state. The Democrats’ nominee in 2006, Mary Jo Kilroy, will reprise her role in 2008, but she won’t be facing Rep. Deborah Pryce. Pryce’s unexpected retirement led to state senator Steve Stivers winning the nomination in the March primary.

Stivers must contend with Kilroy, who is now a congressional campaign veteran, and bring his own campaign and fundraising apparatus up to speed quickly. Kilroy has raised $1.2 million this cycle, after raising almost $3 million in 2006. Stivers has raised just under $800,000, but has $600,00 on hand despite enduring a primary battle. The DCCC feels that this pickup opportunity is among their best, adding this seat to their list of ‘Red to Blue’ races. National Republicans caution that Stivers is a strong candidate in a district that was highly supportive of Pryce and friendlier to GOP congressional candidates than the 2004 presidential numbers (50-50) suggest. Whose optimism is well founded and who is just blowing smoke? That question will likely remain for the duration of this firefight until the votes are counted in November.


Background

After losing their majority in 2006, Republicans had to expect some retirements and resignations. Ohio Representative Deborah Pryce’s was not one of them. Pryce’s decision was a pleasant surprise for Franklin county commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy who had already started fundraising for rematch of the close 2006 election.

Republicans agonized nearly three months without a candidate to replace Pryce until state senator Steve Stivers caved to pressure from Minority Leader John Boehner and entered the race. Apparently, the wait was worth it as Stivers pulled off an astounding $404K fourth quarter despite only running since November. With solid candidates on each side, this race is a pure toss-up and should be an entertaining backdrop to Ohio’s presidential main event this fall.

Candidates

Steve Stivers – Republican – state senator and Iraq veteran
Website

Mary Jo Kilroy – Democrat – 2006 Democratic candidate
Website

Ohio (16) (Open Seat)

Outlook: Leans Democratic


June 12, 2008 Update:

While Democrats nationally are expecting an equally-favorable year to follow their 2006 successes, Ohio may be the one state where their fortunes have diminished, if only somewhat. In 2006, Republican Governor Bob Taft became the first sitting Ohio Governor to be charged with a crime while in office, a result of his failure to report gifts and other perks he received. While the national GOP was reeling from revelations about Abramoff, nowhere did their brand suffer more than in Ohio, where Taft’s criminal conviction fit perfectly into the storyline Democrats constructed.

Flash forward to 2008. Long-time incumbent Ralph Regula’s retirement has Democrats feeling confident that they can pick up this seat, even though the district is reliably Republican at the presidential level and 2008 is a presidential election year. In the March primaries, both sides got their preferred nominees, so Democrat John Boccieri will take on Republican Kirk Schuring this fall. Democrats asked Boccieri, a state senator and Air Force Reserve Major, to deliver their national Memorial Day address, a sign of how happy they are with their candidate and how eager they are to raise his profile and that of this race.

Schuring secured his place on the ballot after barely escaping a primary challenge by underdog Matt Miller, something of a surprise given Schuring’s establishment support. The primary also burned through a substantial amount of his cash, as he had raised $500,000 but is left with just $100,000. That puts him at a slight disadvantage to Boccieri’s $250,000, but it is certainly not an insurmountable lead by any means. While Democrats are going to use their money to try and replay Taft’s foibles for the next five months, Ohio voters may very likely have moved on. In the end, this district’s Republican tilt (Bush won with margins of 11% and 8% in 2004 and 2000) counteracts the national Democratic climate much more than it would have in 2006.


Background

Thirty-six years is a long time to serve in Congress, and after eighteen terms Representative Ralph Regula is calling it quits. In anticipation of open-seat race, both party establishments lined up behind their favored nominees—state senator Kirk Schuring for the Republicans and state senator John Boccieri for the Democrats. Though Boccieri has a clear road to the nomination, Schuring, who is endorsed by Regula, must overcome a stiff challenge from Ashland county commissioner Matt Miller who took a formidable 42 percent in a 2006 primary challenge to Regula.

Democrats have a shot at the seat—Governor Strickland and Senator Brown carried the district last cycle—but the unpopularity of the Iraq War and Governor Taft presented a perfect storm against the Ohio GOP in 2006. It remains to be seen how an Obama or Clinton presidential candidacy and a renewed focus on the economy will affect races in traditionally Republican territory.

Candidates

John Boccieri – Democrat – state Senator, Iraq War veteran
Website

Kirk Schuring – Republican – state Senator
Website

Ohio (18)

Outlook: Likely Democratic


June 12, 2008 Update:

When Democratic freshman Zack Space first won election in November 2006, Republicans put him in the same category as Nick Lampson and Tim Mahone
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, freshmen Dems who had won election in dark Red districts as a result of the foibles of incumbent Republicans Tom DeLay and Mark Foley respectively. The GOP felt that, two years divorced from the ethical troubles of Bob Ney, Space’s predecessor, and with the Democratic winds presumably dying down, they could certainly recapture the Ohio 18th, among others.

Enter the wild beast of candidate recruitment. Republicans, facing an early March primary, had little time to find strong candidates, or weed out weak ones, and were left with a hotly contested four-way primary. After the dust settled and the votes were counted, former Ohio agriculture director Fred Dailey emerged as the nominee. Dailey prevailed by a narrow margin, winning 39-31-22-8, showcasing the lack of a consensus pick among Republicans.

With just a few months until the general election, Dailey has much left to accomplish if he is to restore the GOP’s optimism. Currently, Space has raised almost ten times as much as Dailey and Space’s campaign coffers are full to the tune of $1 million, while Dailey has just $36,000 in his account. Space still must translate those dollars into votes, but without the strong candidate and groundswell of support Republicans were predicting, their glass looks much less than half-empty at this point.


Background

Ever since Representative Zack Space replaced disgraced former Representative Bob Ney with 62 percent of the vote, the NRCC and district Republicans have drawn a bulls-eye on the back of this ”accidental congressman.” Already three GOP challengers—former agriculture director Fred Dailey, retired pilot Paul Phillips, and attorney Jeannette Moll—have entered to unseat Space in a district that voted 55% for President Bush in 2004.

Thus far, Space has responded well to the pressure by maintaining a constant presence in the district and raising over $1 million in 2007. However, to shed the label of vulnerability, Space must win convincingly in November—no easy task given the unpopularity of the Democratic Congress and the headwinds of Republican presidential coattails. This seat could easily shift to a toss-up should one of Space’s challengers distinguish themselves in fundraising, polling, or campaign acumen.

Candidates

Fred Dailey – Republican – former Ohio director of agriculture
Website

Zack Space (I) – Democrat – current Congressman
Website