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Space Faces Heat After Energy Vote

Republicans and a local coal group are giving Rep. Zack Space (D-Ohio) heat for his recent vote in favor of controversial global warming legislation, which narrowly passed the House before the July Fourth recess.

Space represents a Republican-leaning rural district in eastern Ohio that boasts a large coal industry presence. Although the GOP failed to recruit a top-tier candidate to run against Space in 2006 and 2008, it believes his vote for the cap-and-trade bill could make him vulnerable in 2010.

At least one of Space’s former supporters is not happy with his vote. Ohio Coal Association President Mike Carey said he and many members of his group supported Space a few months ago but now are “just beside ourselves that he would support this kind of bill.—

Carey said he had talked with Space and his staff during the lead-up to the cap-and-trade vote at least once a week but was disappointed when Space finally voted in favor of the bill. Carey said he wasn’t sure why the Congressman voted that way.

“It’s hard for me to know,— he said. “I think that he felt that the amendments that were put in made the bill better than was initially introduced.—

As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Space also saw the bill through the markup phase before it went to the floor for a vote. The American Clean Energy and Security Act passed the House, 219-212, with many dissenting Democrats.

According to Carey, the coal industry’s presence in the 18th district only rivals that in the neighboring 6th district, represented by Rep. Charlie Wilson (D), who voted against the cap-and-trade bill.

“I think that this was a big vote for us,— Carey said. “Not just the coal industry bill, but it was a job-killing bill for Ohio, the 18th and the 6th. We obviously supported Rep. Charlie Wilson’s position on this, which was You can’t put lipstick on a pig.’—

Wilson was one of two Democrats in the state who voted against the bill, joining Rep. Dennis Kucinich in dissent. Wilson and Kucinich, however, have not had tough re-election challenges in recent years. Space is the most vulnerable of the three Democrats, with his district voting for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential race with 52 percent of the vote.

When asked about his vote at the Capitol on Tuesday, Space declined to answer questions on the matter and referred to an earlier statement from his office.

“Our energy policy over the last few decades has been absurd because it has lined the pockets of Middle Eastern dictators while driving up energy prices for Ohioans,— Space said in a statement released after the vote. “From investing $180 billion to secure a future for coal to creating new opportunities for our steelworkers and our manufacturers, the time is now to finally declare our energy independence, making our nation stronger, more prosperous, and more secure.—

Space also announced Wednesday that he raised more than $280,000 in the second quarter of this year, giving him a healthy cash-on-hand total of $825,000 as of June 30.

But whether Republicans can capitalize on the discontent with Space’s vote by finding a top-tier challenger remains to be seen in a district where the party has had recruiting problems in the past.

National Republicans have their sights set on state Sen. Jimmy Stewart as the ideal candidate. In a phone interview, Stewart said he met with the National Republican Congressional Committee earlier this year and will make a final decision about the race this month.

Stewart said he was “still on the fence— about running against Space but acknowledged the Congressman’s vote for the cap-and-trade bill made a bid more appealing.

“It certainly raised my interest in the race,— Stewart said. “I was actually flabbergasted that a Congressman from the district would actually vote for that bill in any form.—

But several well-known local state legislators, such as state Sen. John Carey (R) and state Rep. Jay Hottinger (R), have opted not to run because of concerns about redistricting, among other reasons. Ohio is expected to lose at least one seat in 2011, when a panel of state officeholders will redraw the Congressional districts before the 2012 elections.

Stewart acknowledged that he too has to take redistricting into account in his forthcoming decision.

“Obviously it’s a factor, I think for anybody who would consider running for Congress in 2010,— Stewart said. “I’m sure it’s a factor for the incumbent.—

Space won his first race by 24 points over then-state Sen. Joy Padgett (R) in 2006, in the wake of disgraced Rep. Bob Ney’s (R) conviction and subsequent resignation.

Republicans failed to find a good recruit again in 2008, when Space coasted to re-election with 60 percent of the vote over a little-known Republican opponent.

Should Stewart decline to run, at least one national Republican floated the potential candidacy of former state Rep. Jim Aslanides, although local Republicans thought it was unlikely that he would actually run in the end.

Aslanides, who has personal wealth from an oil-drilling business and could put some of his own money into the race, did not return an e-mail request for comment. Former Guernsey County Magistrate and 2008 candidate Jeanette Moll has already announced her candidacy, but Republicans do not see her as a viable contender.

“My conversations with grass-roots GOP leadership is that they’re holding off on getting behind anyone until they see the right candidate emerge,— said P.J. Wenzel, a Republican operative in Ohio. “I am confident that you will see someone very strong soon.—

Like many Republicans, Wenzel pointed out that Wilson voted against the cap-and-trade bill.

“Maybe it’s arrogance, maybe it’s not thinking about things ahead of time, maybe [Space] owes [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi,— Wenzel quipped. “But one thing’s for sure: The vote doesn’t match the district.—