GOP Facing Tough Open-Seat Primaries in Ohio

Posted January 4, 2008 at 6:10pm

For Ohio Republicans, Friday might be known as the day they finally could exhale. That’s when the filing deadline passed in the presidential battleground state, following a year marked by Congressional retirements and a brutally expensive special election.

Republicans now are looking at competitive — and potentially divisive — primaries in all of the seats that came because of the retirement of GOP Reps. David Hobson, Deborah Pryce and Ralph Regula.

“We were very fortunate to have one of the most senior delegations. … We’ve been able to have a very powerful delegation,” said Ohio Republican Party Deputy Chairman Kevin DeWine. “Unfortunately, three of them have decided to retire at the same time.”

No fewer than three Republicans have filed to run to fill Regula’s 16th district seat. Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller, online radio host Paul Schiffer and state Sen. Kirk Schuring hope to win the Republican nod to take on state Sen. John Boccieri, who is considered a top Democratic recruit.

In Hobson’s 7th district, election filings show Republicans state Sen. Steve Austria, former state Rep. Ron Hood and Clark County Republican Chairman Dan Harkins as running for the seat. Democrats failed to recruit a major candidate in the district that voted 57 percent for President Bush in 2004.

The race for Pryce’s seat has proved the least contentious for Republicans, as they have recruited what they consider to be a top-tier candidate in state Sen. Steve Stivers. Yet Stivers must first defeat Ohio State University economics professor Robert Wagner in the GOP race before facing 2006 Democratic nominee Mary Jo Kilroy in November.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) faces two former elected officials in the Republican primary as she tries to hold onto the seat she won by about 2,500 votes in 2006. According to election filings in Schmidt’s 2nd district, Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich and former state Rep. Tom Brinkman have also filed for the Republican primary.

However, DeWine said he anticipates a greater challenge for Schmidt in the general election — most likely against physician Victoria Wulsin — than in the primary, given she has more than one Republican opponent.

“I just think Jean’s nature is that she’ll always have an interesting time in the general election,” he said. “Despite the makeup of the district, I don’t think Jean will ever have a free pass.”

Republicans also have a three-way primary in freshman Rep. Zack Space’s (D) district, which has a history of voting Republican but where a bribery scandal surrounding jailed former Rep. Bob Ney (R) put the seat in Democrats’ hands.

The 18th district leans Republican — President Bush won the rural district with 55 and 57 percent in 2000 and 2004, respectively. And with a top-flight candidate, many political observers thought Republicans could put it back in the red column this November.

But the three viable candidates who have filed for the Republican nod — former Guernsey County Magistrate Jeanette Moll, former state Agriculture Director Fred Dailey and attorney Paul Phillips — have all produced lackluster fundraising records and campaigns so far. But Republicans remain hopeful.

“The fact that Republicans are lining up to run means that they see opportunities for success in 2008,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Ken Spain. “As the special election in Ohio proved, Democrats will not benefit from the same kind of favorable environment that propelled their candidates to some surprising finishes last cycle.”

Meanwhile, election filings show Democrats have one large, crowded primary of their own in Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s (D) 10th district. No fewer than four Democrats have filed with the Federal Elections Commission to challenge Kucinich, and two are elected officials in the Cleveland area.

Democrats are also taking second tries at a couple of their 2006 targets. Both Kilroy and Wulsin are on on their second tries, while the party has put up state Sen. Steve Driehaus to challenge Rep. Steve Chabot (R).

“Steve Driehaus, who has won re-election overwhelmingly in his Republican west side [Cincinnati] district cuts right into Chabot’s base of support,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer.