It’s all uphill from here for GOP freshman Rep. David Joyce.
After easily winning his first term in Congress, Joyce’s new House district stands to host one of the most targeted races of 2014 in the mother of all battleground states: Ohio.
Most of the Buckeye State’s traditionally competitive districts are no longer after Republicans shored them up through redistricting. But the GOP left the swing 14th District alone, believing nine-term Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, R-Ohio, would hold onto the seat as long as he wanted it.
But it turned out that LaTourette didn’t want the seat much longer. He unexpectedly announced his retirement last August. Local Republicans nominated Joyce as his replacement, and he defeated a perennial Democratic candidate by a double-digit margin in November.
Joyce won’t have it so easy this cycle. In late November, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York named the seat as one of the party’s top four targets in 2014. That’s not surprising given that 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney carried the 14th District by a slim 3-point margin in last year’s presidential race.
“It is without a doubt the most competitive race in Ohio,” said Joe Cimperman, a Cleveland city councilman and Democrat. “I think it’s going to be one of the top 10 most competitive races in the country.”
Local Democrats are talking up several names from all over the Cleveland area as Joyce challengers. But attorney Michael Wager, a prominent donor and fundraiser, is by far the most active of the crop.
Wager was one of the first candidates to walk through the DCCC’s doors for the 2014 cycle. On a trip to Washington, D.C., in December, he chatted with committee officials and House Democrats from Ohio, including Rep. Marcy Kaptur.
Around that time, Wager wrote in an email to friends that he planned to seek the seat.
“After supporting others seeking office over so many years, I have decided to run for Congress (Ohio’s 14th Congressional District) and that 2014 is the time for me,” he wrote in a Dec. 6 email, a copy of which was obtained by CQ Roll Call. “I would welcome an opportunity to talk to you about my candidacy.”
Wager wrote that Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Tim Ryan and Kaptur “have agreed to assist me with the fundraising challenge” of raising at least $2 million for the race.
Not coincidentally, online fundraising records show he’s donated to almost every prominent Democrat in the state, including Ryan and former Reps. Betty Sutton, John Boccieri and Charlie Wilson. In 2012, Wager brought in big bucks for Brown as the senator’s finance director in a very expensive race.
Wager declined a request for an interview through his fundraising aide, who provided the following statement:
“I’m certainly grateful for the encouragement I’ve received across the district regarding a potential run for U.S. Congress, and am currently discussing with my family and friends what the best way is for me to continue being an active member of my community and advocate for middle class families in Ohio,” he said.
Wager might characterize his campaign as exploratory, but his actions say he’s all-in this race. (The campaign referred further questions about this to their original statement.)
The bigger question now is whether Wager will be the only Democrat to run for this tempting district in 2014. Democrats want to avoid a primary in order to harness their resources behind a single candidate.
The good news for Democrats? At least one other potential candidate, former Rep. Dennis E. Eckart, ruled out a bid in a Jan. 23 email to CQ Roll Call. Eckart, 62, represented a version of this district for more than a decade in the 1980s.
“I loved my time in Congress representing the people of NE Ohio,” Eckart wrote. “A time when elected leaders actually respected each other and worked on common ground for a common good. I left voluntarily to move on to other things. That should say it all.”
Given the allure of this competitive seat, other challengers might emerge soon. In particular, Democratic women’s groups are excited about the prospect of state Rep. Kathleen Clyde running.
Ohio Democrats ticked off a litany of other possible candidates who could run in the district, including Ohio House Minority Leader Armond Budish, Lake County Commissioner Daniel Troy, U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach and state Rep. Lorraine Fende.
None have publicly expressed interest yet — at least not as aggressively as Wager.
Democrats know there’s a closing window of opportunity to pick up this district. Joyce will be much tougher to beat after a second term. They’ve seen it happen before.
LaTourette defeated then-Democratic Rep. Eric D. Fingerhut in the GOP wave of 1994. He won re-election the next cycle with 55 percent of the vote. LaTourette creamed all of his Democratic opponents by at least 20 points after that.