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Oxley’s Ohio Surprise

State Senator Seen as Early Frontrunner

Veteran Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) announced Tuesday that he will not seek a 13th term in 2006, setting up what at first glance does not appear to be a crowded race to replace him in the 4th district.

No sooner did the Financial Services chairman make his announcement official in his hometown of Findlay, than state Sen. Jim Jordan (R) emerged as the early frontrunner to succeed him in the central Ohio seat.

Out of deference to Oxley, Jordan said Tuesday that he was “not quite ready to say we’ve made a definite decision to run.” But he also signaled that the thought of moving up another rung on the legislative ladder is attractive to him.

“I’m very interested,” Jordan said in an interview, adding that he will take some time to talk to his family before making a final decision about the race.

Jordan served for six years in the state House before being elected to the state Senate in 2000. His current term expires in 2008, and he will be ineligible to run again due to term limits.

He hails from Urbana, located in Champaign County in the southwestern corner of a district that takes in all or portions of 11 counties. He currently represents four of those counties in the state Senate.

Jordan, an educator, is viewed as a rising star in the state party and considered all but in the race to succeed Oxley.

“The assumption is that he’ll run and be a strong candidate,” according to one Republican aide with Ohio ties.

The source said Jordan called every Republican member of the Ohio delegation on Tuesday to let them know of his intent to run for Oxley’s seat.

Beyond Jordan, few other state legislators expressed public interest in the Congressional race Tuesday.

State Sen. Larry Mumper (R), mentioned as another possible contender, said Oxley’s announcement took many people by surprise and therefore it may be some time before the field to replace him develops.

“It’s caught a lot of people off guard,” Mumper said. “I don’t know if anyone is ready to step up just yet.”

Still, Mumper said he is keeping his options open and that he will think about the race. He planned to see Oxley later in the day Tuesday, as the Congressman attended events across the district.

“I’m going to take time to talk to him,” Mumper said.

Several other state lawmakers in the area who might otherwise be interested in a Congressional run already are involved in races for other offices in 2006.

While state Senate President Bill Harris (R) was mentioned as a possible contender, a spokeswoman said he is content in his current leadership post.

“He’s very happy just being Senate president,” said Harris spokeswoman Maggie Mitchell.

Although the 4th district is considered among the most Republican in the state, Democrats say they are not willing to write off the race, considering the current climate in the state.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said politically speaking, Ohio is “ground zero” when it comes to battleground states next year, adding that “anything in Ohio” is fertile ground for Democrats.

The Buckeye State was critical in the 2004 presidential race, and since that time the abysmally low poll numbers of scandal-tarred Gov. Bob Taft (R) have energized state Democrats, who have been locked out of power for more than a decade.

“That tells you we have a shot,” Emanuel said.

Among the possible Democrats mentioned are former Hill aide Ben Konop, who ran in 2004 and held Oxley to the lowest re-election percentage of his career, as well as state Rep. Bill Hartnett and Lima Mayor David Berger.

Still, Republicans have history on their side. The district, anchored by Lima and Mansfield, has been reliable territory for the GOP since the Civil War.

In the 2004 presidential election, President Bush carried the district with 65 percent of the vote — the largest margin he garnered in any of the state’s 18 Congressional districts.

Oxley was first elected to the central Ohio seat in 1981, winning a special election by a narrow 378-vote margin.

After revealing his decision Tuesday morning in Findlay, the 61-year-old lawmaker reflected on his legislative career and accomplishments in a three-page statement posted on his official Web site.

“I have so many friends here who have given me support and encouragement over the years, and we’ve achieved great things as a team,” Oxley said. “There comes a time to move on, but I am incredibly optimistic about our district and nation.”

Meanwhile, the praise for Oxley was effusive from Republicans back on Capitol Hill.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) hailed Oxley’s legislative record, workhorse reputation and ability to work across the aisle. He also noted Oxley’s significant contributions to the GOP’s electoral efforts.

“Politically, Mike has been an important component in the Republican Party’s electoral success,” Reynolds said in a statement. “His prolific fundraising has helped to build a lasting House Republican majority.”

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) called Oxley an “integral part of the House Republican team,” noting his legislative accomplishments such as the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley bill, which sought to rein in corporate executives and hold them more accountable to stockholders.

Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.), who is vying to succeed Oxley as chairman of Financial Services, also released a statement praising Oxley as a “truly historic chairman.”

Oxley is the 20th House Member and 13th Republican to announce he or she will not return at the end of the 109th Congress.

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