Sunday, February 05, 2006

From the Chicago Tribune

Here's an article from today's Chicago Tribune that talks about races in Ohio, and highlights Mary Jo's race (with quotes from Mary Jo and Deborah Pryce). Pryce's spin is that she doesn't think we are really running to win -- let's hope she keeps thinking that!

For a change, incumbents feel the heatPolitical scandals appear to weaken the GOP in Ohio.

The road back to Capitol Hill could be hard.

By Jeff ZelenyTribune national correspondentPublished February 5, 2006

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio -- The congressional corruption scandal has stirred waves of anxiety across the country for politicians whose names appear on the November ballot, but perhaps no place in America is the power of incumbency as wobbly as in Ohio.

Republicans are rattled by ethical lapses and criminal charges throughout the ranks of state government here, topped by Gov. Bob Taft's pleading no contest last summer to four counts of state ethics violations. Now they find themselves facing credible congressional opponents for the first time in years as Democrats eye a handful of seats they believe could be among the ripest targets in the battle for control of Congress.

In electing Rep. John Boehner of Ohio as the House majority leader, Republicans demonstrated a desire to distance themselves from the bribery and corruption scandal that toppled former Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and left Rep. Bob Ney, the Republican who represents Chillicothe and a swath of central and eastern Ohio, under criminal investigation.But the rise of Boehner and the prospect of political reform may not resolve a larger question: Could this be the year of the challenger in Ohio and beyond?

Ohio was pivotal in the 2004 presidential election, tipping the election to President Bush. It could be decisive again in 2006 congressional races.

"Obviously, Democrats believe there are opportunities here because of what's going on in the state," said Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), who says she believes she wears a bull's-eye because of the wrongdoing of Republicans surrounding her. "I hope that I am looked at individually. I will run on my record."

Devalued golden ticket

While incumbency often provides a golden ticket to re-election, the rules may be different this year in Ohio, where Pryce faces her first serious challenge since being elected in 1992.

When asked last week to assess the political mood of her central Ohio district, she replied: "The more important question is what the mood will be like in November. There is a lot that could happen between now and then, and I'm certain the mood will improve."

Pryce conceded she has a "hotly contested race. I truly don't believe they think they can win it, but they are trying to keep me busy and preoccupied."

As he scoured electoral statistics across the country, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, liked what he saw in Pryce's 15th Congressional District.It was evenly divided between Bush and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004, he said, and he believed Pryce could be vulnerable because she was part of DeLay's leadership team.

After considerable courtship--including the promise of sending Eli's Cheesecake from Chicago--Mary Jo Kilroy answered Emanuel's call.

"When the record of the majority is as bad as this one, it's not a good time to be an incumbent," said Kilroy, president of the Franklin County Board of Commissioners. "We need to send a message that we don't like how things are going in this country, and it's time for a change."

Fallout has far reachThe fallout from the ethics scandal has even dogged some incumbent members of Congress who are seeking other offices. Corruption has emerged as an issue in at least three gubernatorial races--in Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada--where GOP members of Congress are on the ticket.

But here in Chillicothe, where seven churches sit along a five-block stretch of Main Street, corruption has become a local issue.Ney, who was elected in 1994 to represent Ohio's 18th Congressional District, has been implicated in the federal fraud investigation of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has agreed to testify against members of Congress as part of a plea bargain.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett has said if Ney is indicted, he should not run for re-election.Ney, however, maintains his innocence and retorted that he would not allow some "party boss" to make a decision that belongs to Ney's constituents.

So he came to a restaurant here last month and announced his drive for re-election."I don't know all the details, but he's in some hot water, and the truth will come out," said Randy Rinehart, 52, a local minister who is trying to keep an open mind. "A lot of people have a price on their souls--especially in politics."

Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, dismissed the suggestion that all GOP candidates could suffer from the lobbying scandal. But he conceded that whoever is swept up in the investigation faces a challenge.

"I think Bob Ney has a tough race," Reynolds said. "It may get to a point where all the skies are clear . . . but I don't know what the future might hold."

Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer, recruited by Emanuel to run against Ney, said ethics would play "a huge role" in the race.

"The very reason why both political parties are sponsoring ethical reforms in the United States Congress is because of Bob Ney," Sulzer said. "The average voter here is already weary of the political scandals because of what they have seen in Columbus and now they are seeing it from their own congressman."

John Wright, a professor of political science at Ohio State University, said Democrats appeared to have recruited more candidates than in most years."The problem Republicans are experiencing right now is a perception of arrogance and corruption, which was the undoing of the Democrats in 1994," Wright said. "Whether or not this has reached the same proportions I don't know, but I would be worried if I were a Republican."


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