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Democratic Ney-Sayers

DCCC Hopes to Defeat Ney, Who Retains Labor Loyalty

By most accounts, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) should be considered one of the more vulnerable House Members up for re-election next year.

While his expansive eastern Ohio district favors the GOP, Ney’s ethics woes — namely his ties to controversial lobbyist Jack Abramoff — make him a ripe target for Democrats bent on making Republican abuses of power the overarching theme of the 2006 elections. Both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and some liberal surrogates have wasted little opportunity in reminding voters back home of his well-publicized troubles.

But defeating the chairman of the House Administration Committee may prove much more difficult than it seems.

The DCCC has put a bull’s eye on Ney’s back and has been aggressively recruiting candidates to run against him.

“Bob Ney will absolutely face a very tough fight for re-election in 2006,” said DCCC spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg. “It is wishful thinking on his part to think that there are not strong Democratic candidates out there considering very seriously taking him on.”

No challenger has emerged so far, but several potential candidates continue to weigh the prospect.

Greg DiDonato, a former state Senate Minority Leader whom Ney defeated in his first race for Congress in 1994, may run. State Rep. John Boccieri (D) said he hasn’t ruled out the possibility either.

For his part, Ney said he’s going about his business as usual but is taking nothing for granted in his re-election race. He notes that the attacks against him have helped him raise more money than usual this early in the cycle.

Ney raised just more than $400,000 in the second quarter of the year, and he will report $469,000 in cash on hand when fundraising reports are filed with the Federal Election Commission later this week, a figure that aides say is the largest amount he has had at this point in an election cycle.

“I’m doing what I’ve always done,” Ney said in an interview yesterday. “I return home. I don’t live in D.C. In 10 years I’ve probably spent two weekends complete in Washington. But I don’t take anything for granted. I work hard at my job and I work hard for every vote.”

The Campaign for America’s Future, a 527 group whose largest contributor in 2004 was billionaire financier George Soros, has funded two recent ad campaigns against Ney. The latest, a small radio buy, sought to highlight the Congressman’s ties to Abramoff and his questionable dealings with Indian gaming interests.

Ney was also one of a handful of Republicans the DCCC targeted with a modest radio buy around Memorial Day, attacking him for not doing enough to support American troops.

Ney said that he hears very little back home about Abramoff from constituents.

“People talk to me about gas prices, health care, the economy, bringing jobs to the area,” Ney said. “That’s what I constantly, constantly hear.”

Ney said that if anything, the attacks against him have served to fortify his support across the political spectrum.

“That has helped me,” Ney said. “George Soros does not play well in my district or our state. These groups and their philosophical bend do not play well, including amongst my Democrats. My Democrats are not for gun control. My Democrats are not for these groups’ left-end agenda. They just aren’t there.”

One of Ney’s key trump cards in a competitive re-election race could be his strong ties to organized labor, traditionally a core Democratic constituency.

Ney has forged a close relationship with local union leaders during the course of his six-term tenure in the House, and in the 2004 cycle, labor groups were the second largest PAC contributor to his campaign.

“Bob Ney has been a stalwart supporter on certain key labor issues since his freshman year,” said one labor official affiliated with one of the unions that has supported Ney in the past. “He has shown a consistent, unflinching support on key labor issues and as a result of that a number of labor unions have let it be known, both within the DCCC and elsewhere, that they will stay with Congressman Ney and support their friend.”

In the redrawing of district lines after the 2000 census the Republican performance of the 18th district was improved, a maneuver that also helped to shrink Ney’s labor constituency.

While Democrats still hold a slight registration advantage in the district, it remains solidly Republican on the national level. Even as Ohio was a national battleground in the 2004 presidential election, President Bush won a comfortable 57 percent in the 18th, winning 15 of the 16 counties that make up the district.

Spanning 6,826 square miles, Ney represents the largest geographic district in the state.

He won the seat in 1994, winning 54 percent of the vote and defeating the conservative DiDonato, then a state Representative.

Feinberg noted the irony of Ney’s election during the Republican Revolution, a movement based on the Contract With America and the promise to clean up Congress.

“The reality is none of that has happened,” she said.

But Ney touts his committee post and his ties to House leaders as an asset.

“My chairmanship has been a wonderful thing for my district,” he said, noting his role in controlling committee funding and handing out key perks to Members. “That has allowed me to have a wonderful interaction with other chairs of the other committees. It has allowed me to do wonderful things for the district. That in my district plays well, that I’m in this chairmanship. That does not hurt me one bit.”

After facing a well-known state Senator in his 1996 and 1998 re-election races, Ney has faced little if any real opposition since, routinely winning more than 60 percent of the vote.

Last year he received 66 percent, albeit against an underfunded and unknown opponent.

Ney could also ultimately benefit from the all-but-certain prospect that national Democrats will have to spend resources defending the neighboring 6th district that Rep. Ted Strickland (D) is vacating to run for governor.

State Sen. Charlie Wilson (D), who the DCCC initially wooed to challenge Ney, has already said he will run in the 6th. Boccieri may also opt into the open seat race, although he said in an interview Wednesday he has yet to make up his mind.

“As of right now I haven’t ruled out any options,” he said. “I live in the 6th district. Obviously Ted Strickland’s seat looks very inviting. But at this time I’m keeping all of my options open.”

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