Over the past three years, Ohio’s 2nd district has become the merry-go-round of Congressional politics.
The two nominees, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) and physician Victoria Wulsin (D), have each run for the seat three times in the past three years. This time around, it’s unclear just how much backing either candidate has from her respective political party.
Schmidt has always had trouble from within her party, as illustrated by her competitive Republican primaries each cycle. Wulsin was the only Democratic nominee in a competitive Ohio district left off her party’s “Red to Blue” list of challengers who have met the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s highest standards. And neither has been a stellar fundraiser in this campaign.
A veteran of the 2nd district merry-go-round himself, attorney Paul Hackett (D) has run against both Schmidt and Wulsin. In an interview Wednesday, Hackett said the consensus after last cycle — when Democrats won huge across the Buckeye State — was that if Wulsin “wasn’t able to do it in 2006, she can’t win it.”
Wulsin “has her own set of issues and problems and challenges just simply as a candidate,” he said. “In my humble opinion, she has not made the improvements that someone typically would have made if they are running their third campaign.”
Hackett defeated Wulsin in a July 2005 special election primary only to narrowly lose to Schmidt in the general election. Hackett’s near-miss in a previously reliable Republican district in the Cincinnati suburbs, coupled with Schmidt’s shaky start in Congress, convinced national Democrats that they could run competitively there.
“My concerns, on the one hand, is that Jean Schmidt has gotten much better,” Hackett said. “She’s not a dumb person. She’s a very hard-working person … She’ll work anybody into the ground. She’s gotten, by my own personal observation, much better at the public aspects, if you will, of running for office.”
Hackett said current Members of Congress, whom he declined to name, asked him to consider running for the seat again in December 2006 after Wulsin lost to Schmidt by 1 point. Nonetheless, he sees the district as winnable for Wulsin, especially with a X factor like the presidential contest in 2008.
The presidential race already has brought Democratic voters out of the woodwork in southern Ohio. More than 13,000 more Democrats than Republicans cast ballots in the district’s voter-rich Hamilton and Clermont counties for the Congressional race.
While that increase could be attributed to the extra attention on the Democratic presidential contest, Wulsin lost to Schmidt by only 2,100 votes in those two counties in 2006.
That’s the kind of math that leads Democrats to believe the district might just be winnable for them. DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer on Wednesday was enthusiastic about Wulsin’s chances against Schmidt this fall.
“Ohioans from across the political spectrum will reject Mean Jean this November, because of her lousy record of rubberstamping President Bush and her wild antics in Congress,” Rudominer said. “Vic Wulsin will put Ohio’s middle-class first in Congress and not the special interests.”
Nonetheless, Wulsin is the only competitive Democrat in Ohio to get left off the committee’s Red to Blue list released Tuesday. Although the committee plans to add many more campaigns to the list as the cycle continues, her neighboring challenger made the list this week: state Rep. Steve Driehaus (D), who is running Rep. Steve Chabot (R) in the 1st district.
“Of course I’m really excited for Steve,” Wulsin said in an interview. “He’s got a great track record behind him and a great race ahead of him.”
Two more of Wulsin’s Buckeye State colleagues, Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy and state Sen. John Boccieri, were included on the DCCC’s first round of the Red to Blue list for special election and open-seat candidates. Wulsin pointed to her recent primary, a contest in which she defeated attorney Steve Black, 58 percent to 30 percent, as evidence that she has proved her political mettle and is poised to defeat Schmidt.
“The DCCC wanted to be sure I defeated my opponents and when they see that I defeated them so strongly, I think they’re going to take some time to look at the numbers again,” Wulsin said.
Wulsin also points to Schmidt’s more extensive voting record as reason enough for voters to look her way if they didn’t do so in 2006. Wulsin said Schmidt’s votes on issues such as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and veterans’ benefits won’t help her campaign in November.
But National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Julie Shutley defended Schmidt’s voting record, calling Wulsin a “loser candidate who lost in what was ground zero for the best environment for Democrats in decades.”
Through Feb. 13, Schmidt had raised just $404,000 this election cycle and had $103,000 in the bank. Wulsin had raised $556,000 in the same period and banked $171,000.
Republicans are confident that Schmidt can win. This will be the first time she’s on the ballot in a presidential election year, and President Bush took 64 percent of the vote in the 2nd district in 2004.
“Jean Schmidt is a tough campaigner, an effective representative and now will have a full term under her belt filled with accomplishments for the people of Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District,” Shutley said.