Buckeye State Republicans Tout Their Deep Bench

Posted April 14, 2008 at 6:34pm

Second of two parts

In what might be the highest honor in the land, at least one Buckeye State Republican compared his party’s farm team to the beloved Ohio State University football team.

[IMGCAP(1)]“It’s kind of like Ohio State,” said Republican activist and statehouse lobbyist Adam Greenslade. “Every year, we lose a bunch of guys to the nationals and we think, ‘How are we going to get our team back?’”

And despite at least one glaring Congressional recruitment hole in the state this election cycle, Greenslade called his party’s grass-roots organization one of the best in the country.

“We’re always finding the bright young guys and girls to run for office,” he said.

Or rather, to fill up the bench on the sideline of the political football field.

Republicans recruited hard for the 18th district seat, now occupied by freshman Rep. Zack Space (D). According to one GOP operative in the Buckeye State, Republicans wanted State Sen. John Carey (R) to run for the seat.

“I think he’s the one that they wanted, badly,” said the operative. “And if Zack Space gets re-elected, he’ll be the one [they want] badly again” in 2010.

A state lawmaker in the area since 1995, Carey declined to run for Congress this cycle, but could go for it in 2010, when he is term limited out of the Ohio Senate. Carey also is chairman of the state Senate Finance and Financial Institutions Committee, a coveted spot in Columbus.

“It’s a money spot,” Greenslade said. “You’re not going to take a freshman and make him Finance chair. That is a coveted chairmanship in the Legislature.”

And if Carey declines a second time, according to the operative, Republicans might look at state Rep. Jay Hottinger (R), who also has been in and out of both chambers of the Legislature since the mid-1990s.

But with the exception of the 18th, Republicans have fielded competitive candidates in all four of the open Congressional districts this cycle: state Sen. Steve Austria in the 7th district, state Sen. Steve Stivers in the 15th district and state Sen. Kirk Schuring in the 16th district. Rep. Bob Latta won the fourth open seat last December in the 5th district following the unexpected death of Rep. Paul Gillmor (R) last fall.

So while it seems the oldest members of the delegation have retired this cycle, many of these team members might have to wait a while for their turn to run for GOP House seats. What’s more, the state’s term limits don’t help their ascendancy: State lawmakers only can stay in a chamber eight consecutive years before moving on, though they can switch back and forth from the House to the Senate as often as they can get re-elected.

Some Republicans see state Sen. Tom Niehaus (R) as a good fit for the 2nd district whenever Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) leaves office. And unlike many of his fellow Republicans in the southern Ohio district, Niehaus has not challenged Schmidt in any of her three primaries in her first three years in office.

Speaking of Schmidt, some Buckeye GOPers see state Rep. Danny Bubp (R) as a potential Republican heir for that seat. Schmidt referred to Bubp, a Marine colonel, in her infamous floor speech in which she said he asked her to send Congress a message that only “cowards cut and run,” not Marines. Bubp later told a local newspaper that he never mentioned Rep. John Murtha’s (D-Pa.) name in his comments to Schmidt and wished she never used his name in her floor speech.

In the nearby 1st district, some Republicans see state Sen. Bill Seitz (R) as a likely replacement if Rep. Steve Chabot (R) ever retires, or falls to any of his challengers.

“We think he can be president of the state Senate in Ohio and he has a real shot at being something statewide, even governor,” said Hamilton County GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou.

Also in southwestern Ohio, some observers see Speaker Jon Husted (R) as a potential replacement for three-term Rep. Michael Turner (R), should he ever decide to leave Congress or run for statewide office. Husted himself, however, might also be eyeing statewide office, such as a bid for Secretary of State in 2010.

On the other side of the state in the northeastern corner, some Republicans see state Rep. Josh Mandel as a likely heir apparent to seven-term Rep. Steven LaTourette (R). Mandel, described by one operative as “a rock star” who is both “good looking” and “smart,” is currently serving his second volunteer tour in Iraq.

And in northwestern Ohio, Latta’s primary opponent, state Sen. Steve Buehrer (R) might also be looking at a higher office.

Even closer to home for the district, Gillmor’s widow, Karen Gillmor, is running again for the state Senate. Karen Gillmor, who declined to run for her late husband’s seat because of family concerns, stepped down from her previous term in the state Senate after she was appointed to a statewide board. But by running again for the state Senate seat, Gillmor could possible ascend the ranks to her late husband’s seat some day.

And what could be only be compared to as the most competitive GOP playoff battle of this century, former Reps. Rob Portman and John Kasich have been hitting the Lincoln Day Dinner Circuit — and hard. Two-term Sen. George Voinovich (R), who is 71, is up for re-election in 2010, and though he has not said he’s retiring, rumors are circulating that his current term might be his last.

While Portman has been more coy about his interest in the seat than Kasich, neither has even come close to ruling out running for Senate or challenging popular Gov. Ted Strickland (D) in 2010.