The special election in Ohio’s 2nd district entered the home stretch this week, with former Rep. Bob McEwen (R) claiming momentum in his bid to return to the House and Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine (R) struggling to weather a storm sparked by his father’s decision to play a key role in a compromise over judges.
A total of 11 candidates are vying for the GOP nomination in next Tuesday’s primary, necessitated by Rob Portman’s (R) elevation to U.S. trade representative. But the race has largely boiled down to a battle between DeWine, the eldest son of Sen. Mike DeWine (R), and McEwen, who is attempting to wage a political comeback some 12 years after losing his House seat.
The suburban Cincinnati seat is staunchly Republican and whomever wins the GOP nod is all but assured of being the newest Member from the Buckeye State.
At the outset of the contest, many assumed it would be a cakewalk for DeWine, who has received a windfall of financial support from his father’s colleagues in the Senate. A poll conducted last week for McEwen’s campaign, however, showed the two men in a virtual dead heat. McEwen received 24 percent and DeWine 23 percent among the 300 likely primary voters surveyed June 1-2. The poll, which had a 6 percent margin of error, also showed McEwen with a large lead among voters within the party’s conservative base — including those who identify themselves as National Rifle Association and Christian Coalition supporters.
“It clearly shows that McEwen has incredible strength among [likely] voters,” said Public Opinion Strategies pollster Gene Ulm, who conducted the survey. “It sure shows DeWine’s vulnerabilities.”
But perhaps more telling in the poll’s results was the difference in the perception voters had of the two men.
The poll found that while 40 percent of respondents had a favorable opinion of DeWine, nearly as many, 36 percent, had an unfavorable image of him. McEwen’s favorable/unfavorable rating was 51 percent to 5 percent.
“I’d sure as heck rather be where we are than where he is,” Ulm added.
DeWine’s high negatives, sources say, are attributed to a mix of factors — most prominent among them his father’s role in last month’s compromise that avoided a showdown over the “nuclear” option in the Senate.
DeWine’s decision to join the “Gang of 14” brokering the deal has angered conservative activists and, McEwen supporters argue, energized those voters who were already most likely to go to the polls next week. Those voters, who weren’t likely to support Pat DeWine anyway, could turn out en masse in an effort to send a message to his father and party moderates all over the country.
Sen. George Voinovich’s (R-Ohio) crusade against the nomination of John Bolton to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations hasn’t helped matters either.
The actions of the two Ohio Senators, considered blasphemous by much of the GOP base, have dominated conservative radio outlets in recent weeks.
While much has been made of the impact that the Senator’s role in the judicial fight may have on his son’s campaign, the increased talk about conservative values has also given the opponents of the younger DeWine an opening to remind voters of his personal troubles.