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GOP Tries New Approach in Race Against Boccieri

After a devastating loss last year in Ohio’s 16th district, Republican officials in Washington, D.C., and Ohio are promoting a different kind of candidate as they try to unseat freshman Rep. John Boccieri (D) in a historically GOP-leaning area in and around Canton.

They are turning to the candidacy of Jim Renacci, a businessman and former small-city mayor who is emphasizing his business background and a platform of fiscal conservatism and tax reductions.

Republicans are hoping for a better performance from Renacci next year than from 2008 nominee Kirk Schuring (R), a veteran state legislator who lost to Boccieri by 10 points — even though Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) narrowly carried the district in the 2008 presidential balloting, Schuring had a political base in populous Stark County (Canton), and most of the state Senate district Boccieri then represented, including his hometown at the time, lay outside the 16th.

During an interview Wednesday at the National Republican Congressional Committee, Renacci said that “people are unhappy in the 16th district right now— and “clearly want someone who has a business background and someone who can show that they’ve made a payroll and they’ve gotten up in the morning and said, ‘How do I make sure that my employees are taken care of and their health benefits are taken care of?’—

“With that kind of background, I think it will be a different race,— said Renacci, whose business interests have included owning and operating nursing homes and running an arena football team.

“I have 27 years of experience of creating jobs, building businesses, running businesses, covering payroll, understanding health care,— Renacci said, describing himself as someone “who has actually steered the ship before in troubled waters.—

Renacci’s business background has drawn attention and criticism from Democrats, with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Gabby Adler saying in a statement that Renacci has a “record of failed management and questionable business practices.—

Renacci criticized Boccieri’s voting record, including his vote in June for a cap-and-trade climate change bill, narrowly passed by the House, that most Republicans portrayed as a job-killing tax increase.

“At this point, I do not believe Congressman Boccieri is representing district 16,— Renacci said. “I believe, at this point, we are being represented by [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi.—

Boccieri and most Democrats supported cap-and-trade as an effort to build a new clean-energy economy and wean the nation from foreign energy sources. When the House passed the measure in June, Boccieri said it included language to establish a $30 billion fund to assist small- and medium-sized firms as they transition to clean-energy operations.

In an interview Wednesday, Boccieri said that “investments in alternative energies are going to help create jobs in Ohio, like they’re already doing in my district.— He pointed to a recent announcement by Rolls-Royce that it will expand its fuel cell research operations in North Canton.

“I’m focused on doing my job here as a Congressman. [Renacci] wants to talk about me. I want to talk about the people of this district and the job I was elected to do,— Boccieri said. “He’s saying a lot about what he’s against, but what is he actually for?—

On health care, Renacci is concerned that Democratic proposals under consideration are akin to “trying to fix a massive machine, and we’re trying to do it all at once.—

Renacci supports market-based solutions to reduce costs and expand coverage, such as allowing individuals to purchase health plans across state lines and enacting tort reform to cut costs from lawsuits.

He said he balanced the budget as the mayor of Wadsworth, a city of about 18,000 in the southeastern corner of Medina County, in the northern part of the 16th. He was elected mayor in 2003 but declined to seek a new term in 2007.

Renacci reported raising $204,000 in this year’s third quarter, his first stretch of fundraising. That is ahead of the pace set by Schuring, whom Boccieri wound up outspending $1.8 million to $1.2 million.

“Renacci’s fundraising success so far is indicative of the significant momentum behind his campaign, and he’s a good example of the top-level candidates stepping into races this cycle — a successful business background and a frustration with Pelosi’s big government agenda in Washington,— NRCC spokesman Tory Mazzola said.

Renacci raised 92 percent of his third-quarter receipts from individual donors, many of them business executives. He received a $2,000 contribution from the campaign committee of Rep. Steven LaTourette (R), who represents Ohio’s 14th district.

Boccieri has the ability to raise more money now that he is the incumbent. He took in $187,000 in the third quarter — aided by contributions from Democratic Members ­— and began October with $602,000 left in the bank, or about three times the $203,000 that Renacci banked.

“We’ve worked hard to make sure that we’ll have the resources to defend ourselves next year,— Boccieri said.

Though he’s preferred by the NRCC and is working to secure endorsements in each of the district’s four counties, Renacci isn’t assured yet of securing the Republican nomination.

He is vying in a GOP primary next spring that also includes Matt Miller, a conservative former commissioner from Ashland County, which is the westernmost area of the 16th.

Miller ran in the 2006 Republican primary, taking 42 percent of the vote against veteran Rep. Ralph Regula, and again in the 2008 primary, when he lost to Schuring by just 5 points.

“This time around, hopefully we can continue to build on the support that we’ve been fostering over the years and actually win the primary and go on to win the general election,— Miller said in an interview Wednesday. “The tide has definitely shifted against John Boccieri.—

As for the NRCC’s promotion of Renacci’s candidacy, Miller said that “many of our residents are not going to look favorably upon anyone who is presented to them as the chosen one.—

Miller reported raising just $650 in the third quarter after filing a statement of candidacy in late August. He had $3,200 left in his campaign account.

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