As a result, Wenstrup’s name identification remained high in Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located. The surrounding area is a key base in Schmidt’s district.
Wenstrup not only defeated Schmidt in Hamilton County, but he also led her in her home of Clermont County by 2,500 votes. When Schmidt had tough primary challenges in the past, she was always able to pull out a victory with a strong showing in this area.
Wenstrup also had some outside help. The Campaign for Primary Accountability, a super PAC based in Texas, spent $49,000 on radio and automated calls blasting Schmidt.
Schmidt evidently took some notice of the campaign against her, and sources say she was on television the last several days of the primary. But it was too little, too late.
“Congresswoman Schmidt didn’t run a race quite frankly,” Shrive said. “She thought she had it in the bag and didn’t really campaign until the very end.”
Schmidt’s spokesman did not return a voice mail request for comment Wednesday, and the Congresswoman missed votes in the afternoon.
Wenstrup polled the race once in mid-February, Shrive said. The survey showed everything had to break their way in their campaign to win. So, night after night, Wenstrup went out to meet voters.
Meanwhile, Schmidt’s antagonists in the district beat the drum for her defeat, including the tea party group COAST. Schmidt’s recent run-in with the House Ethics Committee played a primary role in the tea party group’s argument to voters.
Schmidt’s ethical woes started when she accepted $500,000 worth of legal expenses from a Turkish-American interest group. The legal fees stemmed from several matters involving David Krikorian, the Democratic opponent in Schmidt’s previous bid for re-election.
Armed with a PowerPoint, Krikorian’s attorney, Christopher Finney, made the rounds to tea party meetings in Schmidt’s redrawn district in the weeks leading up to the primary with a presentation titled: “A Broken Ethics Process: A Case Study on Jean Schmidt.”
“When they realize the enormity of the problem and the obviousness of the violations, I literally have people coming up afterwards and thanking me for doing the speech,” Finney, a self-identified Republican, told Roll Call in February.
The Ethics Committee concluded in August that Schmidt should not face any sanctions. She was instead told to repay what the committee called an impermissible gift and disclose the sum on amended accounts of her personal finances.
But the damage was already done. The matter became a campaign talking point that Wenstrup and his allies regularly brought up around the 2nd district.
For Schmidt, it should have been just another clue she was in electoral trouble.
“You either run unopposed, or you run scared. And that’s a good lesson for candidates,” Parker said. “All candidates need to know that at all levels.”
Richard E. Cohen and Jessica Brady contributed to this report.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.