Jean Schmidt Loses GOP Primary in Big Upset

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted March 6, 2012 at 11:58pm

Updated: 1 a.m. | Rep. Jean Schmidt lost her GOP primary in Ohio to foot surgeon Brad Wenstrup in a surprising upset on Tuesday evening.

Wenstrup, who unsuccessfully ran for Cincinnati mayor in 2009, defeated Schmidt 49 percent to 43 percent, according to the Associated Press.

Republicans did not expect Schmidt to lose her primary, and her re-election race was not even on the radar of many Ohio and national operatives. Schmidt’s defeat marks the first incumbent Republican to lose re-election this cycle.

Wenstrup has a very good chance of becoming the next Member of Congress from the 2nd district. Even after redistricting, the southern Ohio seat remains solid GOP territory, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would have won more than 54 percent of the vote there in the 2008 presidential election. The Democratic primary in the 2nd district between William Smith and David Krikorian was too close to call Tuesday night, even with 100 percent of precincts reporting. Smith led by 61 votes.

In the final days of the GOP primary, Wenstrup boosted his campaign by reaching into his own wallet. He donated $55,000 of his own funds, in addition to $15,000 he gave his campaign early on, according to online fundraising records.

The Campaign for Primary Accountability, a super PAC, also kicked in $49,000 to defeat Schmidt, online fundraising records show.

Schmidt had faced a House ethics investigation in recent years and had been cleared by the panel last year. She failed to disclose and repay about $500,000 in legal expenses she unknowingly accepted from a Turkish-American interest group, but as of late last year she had yet to amend her financial disclosures or begin repaying the debt. The ethics case had become a talking point in the campaign of her challenger.

Schmidt and Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who lost to fellow Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur in a redistricting-forced showdown, are the first incumbents to lose primaries in the 2012 cycle.