Scrambling Begins for Ohio Special

Posted March 18, 2005 at 6:16pm

Two sons of well-known fathers head the list of potential candidates in the special election to replace Rep. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who was nominated to be U.S. trade representative last week.

The announcement instantly touched off a GOP scramble to succeed Portman in his Cincinnati-area seat and sets up a special election that will likely take place in either August or November.

Although more than a dozen Republicans are mentioned as potential candidates to run for the seat, Hamilton County Commissioners Phil Heimlich and Pat DeWine would be considered the prohibitive frontrunners if they enter the race.

Heimlich is the son of Henry Heimlich, the Cincinnati physician who invented the anti-choking maneuver that bears his name. DeWine is the oldest child of Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio). Both are former members of the Cincinnati City Council.

“It’s something that we’re very seriously considering,” Pat DeWine said Friday, although he cautioned that he’s “not ready to make any public announcement.”

Heimlich did not return a call to his office Friday.

The timing of the special election to succeed Portman will depend on how quickly he is confirmed by the Senate and resigns his House seat, which could happen as soon as next month.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R) will have 90 days from the time Portman resigns to set the date for the special election. The primary would be set for at least 15 days prior to the special election date.

Taft is likely to have the special coincide with an already-scheduled election date, either in August or November.

Because it is a special election, current officeholders are not forced to relinquish their posts in order to run, another factor that increases the likelihood of a crowded field.

“There’ll be considerable interest by Republicans in this seat,” predicted Rep. Steve Chabot (R), who represents the neighboring 1st district.

Democrats are not expected to vigorously contest the heavily Republican 2nd district, which covers all or part of six counties to the east of Cincinnati.

Privately Democratic operatives breathed a sigh of relief that the district is not competitive, considering that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee could be hard pressed to help fund a special election, as it currently shoulders an $11 million debt.

The ability to amass a significant amount of money quickly could help set DeWine and Heimlich apart from the rest of the GOP field. DeWine especially would be able to tap into a broad financial network, both in Ohio and Washington, D.C.

“He’s going to be able to raise a whole lot of money in a short period of time,” said one Republican strategist with ties to DeWine.

The strategist also suggested that if both DeWine and Heimlich run, it could greatly hamper the fundraising ability of other candidates in the race.

Ohio Department of Commerce Director Doug White (R), a former state Senate president, has also said he’s looking at running for Portman’s seat.

Among the other possible GOP candidates mentioned are former Rep. Bob McEwen, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist who held the seat throughout the 1980s; conservative Cincinnati radio personality Bill Cunningham; state Rep. Tom Brinkman; state Rep. Tom Raga; former state Rep. Jean Schmidt; and Clermont County Commissioner Bob Proud, chairman of the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission.

The 2nd district is a diverse mix of urban and rural populations. The largely affluent metropolitan areas in Hamilton, Clermont and Warren counties account for more than 75 percent of the district’s population. The eastern counties of the district, however, are much more rural, economically depressed and have an Appalachian flavor.

Pat DeWine graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and the University of Michigan School of Law. In his first run for public office, he was elected to the Cincinnati City Council in 1999.

Having grown up in and around politics, public service was a natural career path for DeWine.

When his father ran for lieutenant governor in 1990, a then-22-year-old Pat DeWine managed one of the campaign’s regional offices.

Two years later he was in charge of the grass-roots organization for his father’s unsuccessful bid against then-Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio). Then in 1994, he served as issues director for Sen. DeWine’s victorious campaign.

Since then, Pat DeWine has been a practicing attorney at the Cincinnati law firm Keating, Muething and Klekamp.

DeWine endured a nasty GOP primary last March in the county commission race, in which he defeated incumbent Commissioner John Dowlin. Dowlin ran a TV commercial that exposed DeWine’s marital problems. The ad backfired and DeWine won.

Early on in the commission race Heimlich endorsed DeWine over his then-colleague Dowlin.

Heimlich graduated from Stanford University and received a law degree from the University of Virginia.

From 1984 to 1993, Heimlich was an assistant Hamilton County prosecutor, before being elected to the Cincinnati City Council in 1993. He was elected to the County Commission in 2002.

Portman was elected in a 1993 special election to succeed then-Rep. Bill Gradison (R), who resigned. In the GOP primary he was boosted by Gradison’s endorsement.

But Portman, who still harbors future political aspirations, is unlikely to wade into the battle to succeed him.