CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio — It's less than three weeks before Election Day, and Rep. Steve Stivers (R) appears relaxed for the first time in six years.
After running in the battleground state's most competitive House district for two cycles, Stivers will coast to re-election in November — thanks to redistricting.
"They were brutal," Stivers said of his 2008 and 2010 races, while lining up to drive with his toddler, Sarah, in the Pumpkin Show Parade here. After the GOP-led redraw, "we're not on anybody's target list," Stivers added.
That's a first.
Stivers currently represents the most competitive House district in Ohio. The district includes parts of downtown Columbus, western suburbs and some surrounding rural areas. Parties sunk millions of dollars into picking up that seat during the past few cycles.
In 2006, then-Rep. Deborah Pryce (R) won it by 1,000 votes. She retired the next cycle.
In 2008, Stivers ran for the seat for the first time. He lost to Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy by about 2,300 votes. In 2010, he defeated Kilroy by several points in another high-stakes race.
Republicans redrew the 15th district — including Stivers' Columbus-area home — to stretch around the west and south of that city, then reaching to several rural counties in the eastern part of the state. "Stivers for Congress" signs line farmland in rural Ohio as far as Morgan County.
Athough Stivers insists he takes "every race seriously," the numbers speak for themselves. President Barack Obama won the current 15th district by a 9-point margin in 2008. The president would have lost the redrawn 15th district by 6 points.
Stivers, a darling of House GOP leadership, is now introducing himself to a district that's 65 percent new to him, including voters who live in the Cincinnati and Huntington, W.Va., media markets.
This could pay future dividends for Stivers, who is often mentioned as a statewide candidate. His redrawn district also puts him in a safer position to run the National Republican Congressional Committee in a couple of cycles.