No Heavy Spending Yet In Schmidt Seat Contest

Posted October 8, 2008 at 6:27pm

In the family of Ohio Congressional seats, the 2nd district might just be the neglected middle stepchild.

While six-figure funds flow freely into other competitive districts across the Buckeye State, the national parties have so far spent negligible cash in the 2nd district race.

Though the southern Ohio district has historically voted Republican, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) was re-elected by only 2,500 votes in 2006. She defeated physician Victoria Wulsin (D), who is trying again this time.

It’s unclear whether any Democrat could win the rural, conservative district. The national parties — especially Democrats — have promoted the race as competitive, but spending reports might imply differently.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has reserved almost $1 million in airtime in the district’s primary media market, Cincinnati, but it’s not certain whether that will be used for Wulsin or the competitive Congressional race next door for Rep. Steve Chabot’s (R) 1st district seat. And while the DCCC’s Independent Expenditure arm has spent nothing on the race, according to online records the group has put about $652,000 into Chabot’s race through Tuesday.

Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke conceded that from a national party perspective, this spending was probably not an indication of the races’ competitiveness. But he added that Wulsin is much closer to taking the seat than any Democrat should be in the GOP-dominant district.

“I grant you that it says in part that it’s a district that folks are not confident [about] from a Democratic Party standpoint,” Burke said. “But look, the last three, the special election, Schmidt’s first full term election and this one… they have all been close. She has not come up anywhere near racking up the numbers in that district that a Republican should pick up.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee has reportedly reserved about $495,000 in air time in Cincinnati, though that could also be used to defend Chabot. The NRCC spent a minimal sum — $11,000 on surveys and research — in Schmidt’s district at the beginning of September, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Whether the traditionally GOP district can actually turn out Democrats for the presidential race is also still in doubt. But that doesn’t mean the party isn’t trying: Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama is headed to area for the next two days to campaign.

The district is also getting another visitor this weekend, Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), who Burke said is making his third trip to the district since Schmidt was elected. In her first floor speech as a Congresswoman, Schmidt infamously quoted a letter from a constituent that insinuated the longtime Pennsylvania Congressman and Marine Corps veteran was a coward.

It’s because of gaffes like these that Democrats think Wulsin has a shot at a district that voted for President Bush with 64 percent in 2004.

“You know, it is a district that a Democrat probably doesn’t have a right to have a chance in given its demographics and history,” said Burke. “But Wulsin has a real shot at carrying that seat.”

Public polling so far favors Schmidt, with the exception of a recent poll released by Wulsin’s campaign showing a 1-point race and an Independent candidate, David Kerkorian, who has made his opposition to illegal immigration a cornerstone of his campaign, receiving double-digit support. According to Wulsin campaign spokesman Kevin Franck, that was the campaign’s most recent results since a late June survey that gave the Congresswoman an 8 percent lead.

“The most encouraging part is that we think Vic and Jean Schmidt are in a tie, because the ultra-conservative third-party candidate is pulling votes away from Schmidt,” Franck said.

Schmidt’s campaign disputed the results. Her internal polling, released after Wulsin’s survey, gave the Congresswoman a 16-percent lead. Schmidt spokesman Bruce Pfaff said that according to their data, Wulsin cannot get within the margin of error under any turnout model.

“Nobody watching this race believes that it’s close,” Pfaff said.

Pfaff also pointed to the fact that Wulsin recently pulled her television advertisements off of network television as proof that her campaign is struggling.

Franck said the decision to use cable and radio, which can more effectively reach the more rural eastern parts of the district, was a strategic one to persuade undecided voters.

“We’re not running a cookie cutter campaign because our district is so diverse in terms of the population, in terms of ideology, in terms of geography…” said Franck. “We have a campaign that is set to meet the needs of people in various areas of the district and frankly, most Congressional districts aren’t as diverse as the 2nd Congressional district of Ohio.”

Pfaff disputed that reasoning, saying Wulsin’s strategy was counterproductive and would not reach the maximum number of voters in the 2nd district.

“That flies in the face of any political media,” he said. “People still watch ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ People will watch their nightly news, people still watch ‘C.S.I.’… they still have the biggest demographics.”