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With the candidate-withdrawal window narrowing in Ohio, embattled Rep. Bob Ney (R) said he is not facing any increased pressure from party leaders to step aside while there is still time to remove his name from the November ballot — and he reiterated on Monday he wouldn’t succumb to any.
Ney faces a tough race for re-election against Dover Law Director Zack Space (D) largely because of his links to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. A poll released Monday by the Space campaign showed the Democrat with an 11-point lead over the incumbent, despite the Republican lean of the eastern Ohio district.
But according to Ney’s media consultant, John Brabender, Ney’s pollster just completed a survey that shows “dramatically different numbers,” with Ney slightly ahead.
Still, the Congressman’s political troubles are hard to deny.
His former chief of staff has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud in the Abramoff case and violating the one-year ban on lobbying for ex-Congressional staff.
Ney has not been indicted and his allies argue that he remains popular back home. GOP leadership sources said efforts to convince the six-term Congressman not to seek re-election have long since subsided as he appears dug in to his re-election fight now more than ever.
If Ney were to withdraw from the ballot before Aug. 19 — 80 days out from the Nov. 7 election — there would be a special primary to decide who his ballot replacement would be.
But if Ney decided not to be a candidate after that date, under Ohio law it would be more difficult to remove his name from the ballot.
Ney vowed in an interview Monday that scenario won’t come to pass.
“It doesn’t get fuzzy to me,” he said. “Voters are going to decide this in November — Republicans, Democrats and independents.”
The increased focus on the procedure for removing Ney from the ballot, if needed, comes in light of a federal court ruling in Texas last week that has left the ballot status of another politically wounded former House Member, Tom DeLay (R-Texas), up in the air. DeLay moved out of the state to get off the November ballot, but a judge ruled that move was unconstitutional. DeLay remains the Republican nominee pending a GOP appeal.
The Cooper & Secrest Associates poll done for Space’s campaign showed him ahead of Ney by a 46 percent to 35 percent margin. The survey also showed that 33 percent of respondents had a favorable view of Ney while 40 percent had a negative one.
“This is an electorate that has been bludgeoned with economic dislocation, while Bob Ney ... was busy wheeling, dealing and giving himself over to the siren call of nest-feathering on the Potomac,” pollster Alan Secrest wrote in a polling memo.
Associates close to Ney’s campaign said his pollster, Glen Bolger of Public Opinion Strategies, just got out of the field with a survey that showed Ney with a slight lead over Space. Details of that poll were not made available Monday.
“People forget how popular Bob Ney is in this district,” Brabender said. “He’s not going anywhere. Bob Ney is not hearing any pressure to do anything but run.”
Ney said he spent the July Fourth recess attending events in the district — including some 15 parades — and that he saw Space at only three events at most.
“He is AWOL in that district. He is literally AWOL,” Ney said.
Ney and his campaign strategists said they believe Space’s attempts to focus solely on the Abramoff scandal will backfire in the end.
“All he talks about is Jack Abramoff,” Ney said, rattling off heath care, immigration and raising the minimum wage as the issues he talks about most on the campaign trail.
But while GOP strategists privately acknowledge their chances of holding the seat are greatly diminished by having Ney on the ballot, most have given up hope that he might be persuaded to step aside — even if he is indicted.
“Nothing has changed and I don’t know that I expect it to unless something happens,” said one GOP strategist. “He seems pretty dug in.”
Others note that Ney has further incentive to stay in the race for financial reasons, because he is able to pay his legal bills from his campaign fund. He is expected to show more than $400,000 in his campaign account when second-quarter fundraising reports are filed later this week.
First elected in 1994, Ney has not faced a competitive re-election race since the mid-1990s. He has enjoyed strong support from organized labor in a district where Democrats have a slight registration advantage.
Among the names mentioned as possible ballot replacements for Ney are state Sens. Joy Padgett (R) and Jay Hottinger (R).