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Driehaus Says He Can Beat Chabot

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) has had some close races over his seven campaigns for Congress.

In five of his seven elections, the Cincinnati-based Congressman did not break 56 percent in the general election. In 2006, Chabot defeated Cincinnati Councilman John Cranley (D), 52 percent to 48 percent.

But while Chabot’s races have been close, this year’s challenger, state Rep. Steve Driehaus (D), confidently said in an interview Tuesday that things will be different this year — and that the Congressman is likely to lose.

“Steve Chabot would like to claim that the Democrats like to come after him, time and time again,” Driehaus said. “I would argue that this simply isn’t true. I would argue that there have been a couple solid efforts … I think Cranley ran a great campaign … but I think if you asked people in Cincinnati, they say this is as tough a race as Chabot has ever faced.”

The 1st district is unique, even for Ohio. It takes in most of urban Cincinnati and its northern Republican-leaning suburbs. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) lost the district by a little more than 3,000 votes during the 2004 White House election.

But even when Democrats swept the Buckeye State in 2006 after a statewide corruption scandal tainted the Republican Party, Chabot held onto his seat.

“We’ve been challenged time and time again, and each time there’s a different reason as to why Congressman Chabot will be defeated, and it simply doesn’t happen,” Chabot campaign spokesman Jamie Schwartz said.

Driehaus insists that he brings a different kind of candidacy to the table than Cranley. He said he shares a base with Chabot on Cincinnati’s West Side, a neighborhood of middle-class townships that comprises almost a third of the district’s population. The area is heavily Catholic, which Democrats believe is more in tune with Driehaus’ position opposing abortion rights.

“I think that [West Side] will be critical to us succeeding in the fall,” Driehaus said. “We don’t need to win in those areas, but we need to do well.”

But not everyone thinks Driehaus is giving Chabot a tougher fight than Cranley did. Hamilton County Republican Party Executive Director Alex Triantafilou said he thought Cranley was better known in the district overall, which was a bigger advantage in the general election compared to Driehaus’ geographic base.

“John Cranley had a higher name identification because he had a relatively high-profile city council position that gets regular news media coverage, where Driehaus has not done so much to distinguish himself and isn’t as well-known,” Triantafilou said.

Democrats are quick to point out that Chabot represents one of the most urban districts in the state that votes Republican. About 27 percent of the district’s population is black. With former Cincinnati Mayor Ken Blackwell (R) on the statewide ticket as the gubernatorial nominee in 2006, it’s possible that Democrats did not make a huge effort to drive out the urban base in the city.

“It may have been a decision on [now-Gov. Ted Strickland’s] part to place less emphasis on Cincinnati than elsewhere, because it’s home of Ken Blackwell,” Driehaus said. “But I can tell you that [Strickland has] been down here a lot.”

What’s more, Democrats claim the all-but-official presidential nomination victory of Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) could drive out the black vote in droves this fall and boost their ticket in the 1st district. That’s a fact that Republicans are aware of, Triantafilou said.

“Scared wouldn’t be the right word, but we are aware of the potential for a higher than normal African-American turnout and have told our candidate to prepare for that,” he said. “We are aware that it’s a phenomenon that exists, and I think Steve Chabot is aware as well and will run the kind of campaign that he needs to to be successful.”

Schwartz said 2006 was no breakout year for Republicans, either.

“Going back to 2006, I would say the Republican base in the state of Ohio and in the 1st Congressional district as well, did not turn out in the numbers we are used to seeing. Looking ahead to this year, a presidential election year, we expect a lot of the [Republican] folks who did not turn out in 2006 to make stronger showing in 2008.”

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