Saturday, December 8, 2007

It Could Happen

I’ve been slightly remiss in not giving more coverage to the special election coming up in the Ohio 5th district on Tuesday. This is for the Congressional seat vacated by the death of Paul Gillmor, and the contenders are Bob Latta for the Republicans and Robin Weirauch for the Democrats.

To catch you up: Mr. Latta, son of the former Congressman Del Latta (who held the seat during the Nixon administration and sat on the House Judiciary Committee that impeached him), won a very hotly contested primary election in November. He now faces Ms. Weirauch, who has run twice for the office, losing to the late Mr. Gillmor in 2004 and 2006.

Heretofore the state and national parties have paid scant attention to this district. It is a large, predominantly rural district that has been reliably Republican for generations (its last Democratic representative left office in 1939), so the GOP has felt that it is safe. The Democrats have also written it off for this reason as well, and in Ms. Weirauch’s previous two runs, neither the state nor the national Democratic machines gave her much help other than the usual lip service.

But now things are different. Ohio has a Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, and he has been actively campaigning for Robin. The DNC has even stepped in to help…and stepped in it, too, by running attack ads that tie Latta to Tom Noe and Coingate. (The reaction of the Weirauch backers has been along the lines of “stop helping us like that.”) And now there is word that union help is on the way to get out the vote for Robin.

The union help can’t be overlooked. While labor unions may have lost some of their clout nationally over the last few decades, they are still a strong presence in places like northwestern Ohio and in cities like Toledo, which is still a Democratic stronghold. The Ohio 5th district abuts the 9th, which includes Toledo and runs east along the shore of Lake Erie to the western suburbs of Cleveland. It has been a Democratic district, with one brief two-year interruption in the early 1980’s, for over fifty years. Its current representative is Marcy Kaptur, who has been a vocal union supporter in Congress, and now she is strongly behind Robin’s campaign, knowing that another Democrat in the House from her part of the state will be good for the unions since a lot of the members who work in the 9th live in the 5th, and it will be good for the Democrats in Ohio who are beginning to flex some muscle after the debacle of the disgraced Taft administration and the languishing economy in rural districts.

The Republicans are going through the motions of backing Mr. Latta, but their heart doesn’t seem to be in it. While the Latta campaign goes forth, the national party and its big guns are not pouring a lot of effort into it. This weekend House Minority Leader John Boehner is passing up a chance to campaign for Mr. Latta, sending instead former Congressman Rob Portman, who also served as the White House OMB director. That’s a little like getting Carrot Top when you were hoping for Jay Leno. The Latta campaign is putting the best face on this:

Latta spokesman Matt Parker confirmed that Boehner is not scheduled to campaign in the district before the election – and he has not campaigned with Latta since he won the party’s nomination on Nov. 6.

“Bob Latta’s campaigning on his own merits. He’s campaigning his own way because he wants to go to Washington to do his own thing,” Parker said. “He has his own agenda. He doesn’t have to have John Boehner by his side.”

Boehner is, however, campaigning at a rally with the Republican nominee in a Virginia special election this weekend, aiding state Del. Rob Wittman in a less-contested race.

That sounds to me like a typical brave front from a campaign that knows that even if the district has been historically a lock, they also know that the district went for the Democrats in the governor and senate race in 2006.

It could be that this may be the moment for Robin. Stay tuned.