After Bruising Primary, Latta Favored in Ohio

Posted November 7, 2007 at 6:37pm

It’s not 27 votes, but it certainly was a closer election than some might have anticipated. State Rep. Bob Latta won the Republican primary in Ohio’s 5th district special election on Tuesday against state Sen. Steve Buehrer.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Latta had 44 percent of the vote to Buehrer’s 40 percent — a margin of victory of about 2,649 votes out of 73,251 votes cast in the primary.

Latta now moves on to a special general election on Dec. 11 to face the 2004 and 2006 Democratic nominee, Robin Weirauch, who won her party’s nod for a third time on Tuesday.

The Bowling Green-area district is considered a stronghold for Republicans, so Latta is favored to become its next Member of Congress.

The special contest is to fill the seat vacated by the late Rep. Paul Gillmor (R), who died in early September. Gillmor held the seat since 1988, when he defeated Latta in the primary by just 27 votes. Latta’s father held the seat before Gillmor.

The contest between Latta and Buehrer grew nasty in the final days, and Buehrer had the Club for Growth on his side, airing ads that hit Latta for his budget votes in the Legislature.

“We expected a hard-fought race,” Latta campaign manager Matt Parker said. “We were outspent somewhere in the neighborhood of 4-to-1 if you include everything in this race from the Club for Growth that included Bob Latta’s name.”

Parker estimated that the Latta campaign spent about $400,000 over the course of the campaign, including retaliating with some negative material of their own.

Eventually state Republican Party Deputy Chairman Kevin DeWine intervened with a letter to both candidates asking them to denounce negative campaigning, including activities from third-party groups.

Yet even after DeWine’s appeal, the Latta and Buehrer campaigns took complaints to the Ohio Elections Commission — each charging that the other campaign distorted their record in distributed campaign material.

But by Tuesday evening the voters had spoken, even though official results didn’t come in until Wednesday morning. Voting machines in Putnam County that were experiencing “intermittent failures,” according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, could have been the culprit.

The state office sought to keep the polls open an extra 90 minutes, while paper ballots were distributed for special election voters. The secretary of state also required that all campaigns delay reporting results until after 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Latta didn’t get word of his win until 6:15 Wednesday morning. Afterward, Parker said Latta shared the news of his win with his father, former Rep. Del Latta (R), before heading to the state Capitol for work.

Buehrer said in a statement that he called Latta in the morning to congratulate him.

“I wished him luck and pledged to help elect a Republican to represent this great region of the state,” Buehrer said.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) also congratulated Latta in a statement.

“I am confident that Bob will be successful in his campaign to succeed the late Congressman Gillmor,” Cole said. “And if given the opportunity, I believe he will serve with the same great distinction and dedication that Paul brought to his job every day.”

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer said Latta is emerging “wounded” from a bloody Republican primary.

“The day before the primary, the Ohio Elections Commission unanimously found Latta guilty of recklessly lying about his opponent’s record,” Rudominer said. “Ohioans deserve a fresh alternative that will bring change to Washington.”

But despite the Democratic rhetoric, the 5th district is considered safe territory for Republicans. President Bush carried the district with 61 percent in 2004, and Gillmor held on to his seat with 57 percent in 2006, a year in which Ohio Democrats made significant gains across the state.