Defying Conventional Wisdom, Schmidt Has Big Poll Lead

Posted January 22, 2008 at 6:34pm

Rep. Jean Schmidt (Ohio) has a mean lead over her Republican primary opponents in the latest poll commissioned by her campaign. The Tarrance Group survey showed Schmidt with at least a 20-point edge over her leading Republican opponent.

In the poll, Schmidt had 52 percent, former Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich registered with 31 percent, and former state Rep. Tom Brinkman received 9 percent. The poll surveyed 300 likely registered Republican voters Jan. 9-10 and had a margin of error of 5.8 points.

The poll appears to be bad news for Heimlich, who declared his candidacy last May, and comes one month after Brinkman joined the race. Some Ohio Republican operatives, including GOP political consultant Gene Pierce, see a third Republican candidate in the primary as splitting the anti-Schmidt vote.

“You’ve got to think that [Heimlich’s] running second, but Jean Schmidt’s still at 52 percent,” Pierce said. “If I were Heimlich or Brinkman, I’d try to get one or the other out, but that’s not going to happen.”

A Heimlich campaign spokesperson did not respond to a phone message requesting comment.

Democrats privately concede that they would rather face Schmidt than either of the other Republicans. She is viewed as weak because of some of the gaffes she’s made since she took office after an August 2005 special election. Most notably, Schmidt insinuated in a House floor speech that Vietnam veteran and longtime Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) was a “coward.”

These highly publicized remarks are part of the reason Democrats are running hard in the district, despite its decades-long Republican lean and the fact that President Bush won it with 64 percent in the 2004 White House election.

Physician Victoria Wulsin, the 2006 Democratic nominee, is seeking the Democratic nod again, joined this time in the race by attorney Steve Black. A campaign operative for Wulsin, the presumptive Democratic frontrunner, said he was encouraged by Schmidt’s poll results.

“To see the sitting Member of Congress being just over 50 percent in her own Republican primary … is very promising for a Democrat heading into the fall,” campaign manager Josh Levin said.

Levin also noted that both Heimlich and Brinkman have not released any paid media for the March 4 primary, meaning the GOP race potentially could get tighter.

“The more the Republican primary gets divisive, the better it is for us,” Levin added.

Pierce said that although the poll shows “obviously some dissatisfaction” with Schmidt, Democrats should be wary.

“If I were [Wulsin], I wouldn’t get too cocky,” Pierce said. “In a strongly Republican district, you couldn’t beat Jean Schmidt in the worst year in 36 years in Ohio Republican politics. I think whoever comes out of the Republican primary can win, so if I was a Democrat, I wouldn’t get too cocky.”

But despite just scoring a majority as an incumbent in the poll, Schmidt still has much of her party’s organized support in the primary. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Schmidt has picked up endorsements from five of the seven county Republican organizations in her district.

However, Schmidt’s repeatedly tough re-election battles are a far cry from the electoral history of her predecessor, former Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who stepped down from Congress to be U.S. trade representative in early 2005. The popular Portman easily held onto the district for almost a decade and is said to be considering a statewide bid in the future.

“I think a lot of people in that district are very wistful of Rep. Portman,” Pierce said. “I think they’re looking for a candidate who can bring back those good old days. It’s hard to tell if one of those three people can develop that kind of aura of success … It should be a very safe Republican district and Mr. Portman did a tremendous job for the community. They’re still looking for someone like that.”