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Ohio Rep. Jean Schmidt had tough primaries before, but it’s obvious she didn’t see this one coming.
Podiatrist Brad Wenstrup defeated Schmidt by 6 points in Tuesday’s GOP primary, likely ending the controversial Congresswoman’s career.
Her unexpected loss serves as a warning for many Members seeking re-election on new turf after redistricting or facing even the smallest political challenge. More importantly, Schmidt’s loss signals a still-unsettled electorate looking for a reason — any reason — to boot an incumbent from office.
“Jean has always had some tough races, but she’s always sort of hung on and won, so I guess I expected that again,” fellow Ohio GOP Rep. Jim Jordan said Wednesday. “It just wasn’t on my radar screen.”
Jordan surmised that it’s too early to tell whether the loss should serve as a broader warning sign for incumbents this cycle.
“A lot of times, it’s the particulars of the race, but I think it’s always important for Republicans to do exactly what they told the voters they were going to do,” he said. “I don’t know if that played into the race or not, but it could have been more local, too. I just don’t know.”
Schmidt didn’t lose for any one factor. Instead, a perfect storm of ethics woes, new territory in her district, super PAC spending and voter agitation with her politics and personality contributed to her defeat.
In any case, she should have seen it coming, Ohio sources said Wednesday. Instead of campaigning Tuesday in the Buckeye State, Schmidt was in Washington, D.C., attending a morning Conference meeting at the Capitol Hill Club and voting in the afternoon. Meanwhile, her two Ohio colleagues embroiled in a race against each other — Democratic Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich — rushed around the 9th district until the polls closed.
“She’s always struggled,” Matt Parker, an Ohio Republican operative, said. “Rob Portman used to carry that district very handily when it was his, and she just always struggled.”
Wenstrup defeated Schmidt without running a single television ad — using only radio, direct mail and automated calls to reach voters. Wenstrup’s campaign manager, law student Brian Shrive, had never worked on a Congressional campaign before, except when he put together yard signs for Portman’s 1992 campaign while in high school.
But Wenstrup, an Iraq War veteran, turned out to be a better candidate than many initially gave him credit. He also hired Mark Weaver, a Columbus-based consultant who guided freshman Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) to victory in 2010.
He was well-known from his 2009 bid for Cincinnati mayor against an incumbent Democrat — a fool’s errand of a race for Republicans. But Wenstrup held the incumbent Mark Mallory to a surprisingly low 16-point margin of victory.