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Race Is On for Strickland’s House Seat

Rep. Ted Strickland (D) confirmed Monday that he will run for governor in 2006, ensuring that the eastern Ohio swing district he is vacating will become a national battleground next year.

Both parties are preparing for a highly competitive contest to succeed the six-term Congressman, and a handful of candidates on each side are already contemplating entering the 6th district race.

State House Speaker Pro Tem Chuck Blasdel is a leading contender among a short list of possible Republican candidates. Two state legislators also top the Democratic list of would-be Strickland successors: state Sen. Charlie Wilson and state Rep. John Boccieri.

In an interview Monday, Blasdel confirmed his interest in the Congressional seat and said he has begun the process of talking with people about the race.

“It’s a seat that certainly I think is in play for both sides,” Blasdel said. “Going to Congress is one of those things that is a great opportunity and a great privilege to have. So, I don’t know how anybody — especially those that serve in the legislative bodies outside of Congress when these opportunities come around — I think you just automatically have to take a look at it.”

Blasdel, 34, lives in Columbiana County, the largest county in the expansive district that runs up the southeastern border of the state along the Ohio River. His state House district encompasses all of Columbiana County.

Barry Bennett, a political consultant formerly with the Arlington-based GOP firm Greener and Hook, is also among the Republicans looking at Strickland’s seat. He is from the district and has deep ties to state party officials.

State Rep. Jimmy Stewart (R) has also been mentioned.

Boccieri, meanwhile, is weighing several options as he charts his political future.

A major in the U.S. Air Force reserves, Boccieri just returned home from his third rotation in the Middle East — flying C-130 cargo missions into Iraq and Afghanistan.

He has also been mentioned as a possible challenger to Rep. Bob Ney (R) in the neighboring 18th district, a race that he discussed with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) and other party leaders before Strickland announced his intention to run for governor.

While Boccieri represents territory in Ney’s district, he lives in Mahoning County — the second largest county in the 6th district.

Boccieri said that all of the speculation about his political future hit him “like an avalanche” after his return from overseas. Still, he acknowledged, “Someday I’d like to get to Congress.”

“I’m looking at all my options, obviously,” Boccieri said.

Wilson, the state Senator, is the other prominent Democratic name mentioned as a possible contender for Strickland’s seat. He hails from St. Clairsville, which is also Ney’s home.

Wilson was elected to the state Senate in 2004, earning the endorsement of the Ohio Right to Life Committee.

Some party strategists privately suggest that Wilson may be the stronger candidate of the two Democrats mentioned for the open seat, possibly because he is wealthy and could spend personal money in the race. They are hopeful the party will be able to avoid a bloody primary in the 6th district by convincing one of the two candidates to challenge Ney instead.

Both Boccieri and Wilson have moderate to conservative profiles that Democratic strategists say match well with the district’s socially-conservative voters. Support from organized labor, traditionally a Democratic constituency, is also expected to play a large role in the open seat contest.

“We feel very confident that it will stay in Democratic hands,” DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg said.

But House Republicans, who current hold 232 seats, say the district is ripe territory for a pickup.

Although Strickland has had little trouble holding onto his seat since 1996, it voted 51 percent for President Bush in the hotly contested presidential election last year. Before the redrawing of Congressional lines in the 2002 cycle, Bush won the district by 15 percentage points in 2000.

“We have been eagerly awaiting Mr. Strickland’s retirement,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Carl Forti. “This is one more competitive seat to be contested next fall.”

The 6th district takes in all or portions of 12 counties and stretches over 5,200 square miles. It is covered by four media markets: Youngstown, Ohio; Wheeling, W.Va.; Charleston, W.Va. and Parkersburg, W.Va.

Strickland becomes the ninth House Member this cycle to announce he is vacating his seat, either to run for higher office or retire.

Aside from Rep. Jim Nussle’s (R) 1st district seat in Iowa, which he is expected to vacate in 2006 to run for governor, the 6th district is currently the most competitive open- seat race on the 2006 battleground map.

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