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All eyes on Ohio congressional race

April 6, 2012
By Sam Shawver ( , The Marietta Times

Ohio's 6th Congressional District race has apparently drawn some attention from a group that focuses on getting key Democrats elected to the U.S. Congress.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has selected 6th District candidate Charlie Wilson for its Red to Blue program that highlights top campaigns across the country and offers them financial, communications, grassroots and strategic support, according to J.R. Starrett, Wilson's campaign manager.

"This is going to be a tough race for us, as well as for (incumbent) Bill Johnson," Starrett said. "Right now being in the Red to Blue program is helping us with exposure for Charlie's campaign. It's an extremely competitive program that we're also hoping will help us financially down the road."

Article Photos

Wilson, left, and Johnson

Wilson, who represented the 6th District between 2006 and 2010, is seeking a third term in Congress.

Johnson spokesman Mark Weaver said it's no surprise that Wilson would show up on the Red to Blue list this year.

"Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama want to see him re-elected," Weaver said. "He's a reliable vote for their agenda. And they'll be raising a lot of money to help put other Democratic Congressional candidates in office."

Fact Box

Who to watch

Ohio's Democratic and Republican parties both agree there are three U.S. Congressional races to watch in 2012:

District 6: Republican incumbent Bill Johnson and Democrat Charlie Wilson.

District 16: Republican incumbent Jim Renacci versus Democrat incumbent Betty Sutton (former 13th District congresswoman). Also running is Libertarian Jeff Blevins.

U.S. Senate: Democrat incumbent Sherrod Brown and Republican Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. Also on the ticket are Green Party candidate Joe DeMare, Libertarian John Fockler and Independent Scott Rupert.

Source: Times Research.

Weaver noted that Johnson, too, received similar support from the GOP in 2010 when he was listed as one of the party's "Young Guns."

"That was one factor in his election, but we believe people were also ready for change in southeastern Ohio," he said.

Chris Redfern, chairman of Ohio's Democratic Party, said the 6th District race, as well as other congressional contests in the state, will have significance beyond Ohio's borders, noting candidate stances on issues like Medicare could have a national impact.

"(Republican House Budget Committee Chairman) Paul Ryan's plan would shift dollars from Medicare into tax cuts for the rich," Redfern said, adding that GOP candidates would be most likely to support plans like Ryan's.

Redfern said that's why the Wilson/Johnson race, as well as the U.S. Senate campaign between Ohio Republican Treasurer Josh Mandel and incumbent Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown are important.

He noted the District 16 Congressional race pitting Republican incumbent Jim Renacci against a Democrat incumbent, Betty Sue Sutton, is also significant.

Sutton represented Ohio's 13th Congressional District until it was broken up by state Republicans during redistricting last year that moved her into the 16th District where she's facing off against Renacci.

Christopher Maloney, spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, agreed that the Wilson/Johnson, Mandel/Brown and Renacci/Sutton races would be the ones to watch this year.

"In general, Ohio presents a much different scenario today than when Wilson, Sutton and Brown were first elected," he said.

Maloney noted all three supported the Obama administration's national health care initiative, in spite of the fact that Ohio voters supported a resolution to repeal the legislation in the state last November.

"Charlie Wilson and Betty Sutton both cast votes for Obamacare," he said. "And Sherrod Brown has voted 95 percent of the time with the Obama agenda.

"So each and every one of these races is important," Maloney added.

Mike Tager, associate professor of political science at Marietta College, agreed Democrats are highly interested in the 6th District race.

"The 6th District of Ohio is the kind of district the Democrats are targeting because they think it's a winnable seat. It was previously represented by Democrats Charlie Wilson and Ted Strickland, so it's not impossible for a Democrat to put together a winning coalition of support," Tager said via email Thursday.

He noted incumbents seeking their first re-election are most vulnerable.

"Over time as they provide more services to voters and gain more name recognition, they usually get tougher to beat," Tager said. "So 2012 might be their best chance to unseat Bill Johnson."

He said Democrats are also hoping more of the party's registered voters will turn out in 2012 if Obama is running at the top of the ticket.

"As far as Ohio's significance nationally, currently 13 out of the 18 Ohio House seats are controlled by the Republicans, or over 70 percent," Tager said. "By party registration and in presidential elections Ohio is more competitive and balanced than that, so the Democrats probably figure that if they have any chance of recapturing the (U.S.) House of Representatives in 2012, they need to do better in places like Ohio."

He said Ohio is also very important in the presidential election.

"So whatever money and support the Red to Blue campaign sends to Ohio Democratic congressional candidates may indirectly help Obama," Tager added.



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