Ohio Poll Surprises Some Political Pros

Posted July 15, 2008 at 6:23pm

In an attempt to quiet rumors that Ohio’s 16th Congressional district might elect a Democrat in November for the first time in five decades, state Sen. Kirk Schuring (R) released a poll Monday showing him leading state Sen. John Boccieri (D), one of the Democrats’ top recruits of the election cycle, by 6 points.

“I don’t have to tell you that there were some folks inside the Beltway in Washington who were suggesting that my opponent was going to run away with this and I was not as strong as some had suggested,” Schuring said. “And again, the poll shows, that we are a formidable force.”

Washington, D.C., and Ohio GOP insiders have expressed doubts about the 16th district, which has recently voted increasingly for Democrats. Schuring’s detractors point to the fact that he won his March primary by only 5 points with 47 percent of the vote despite having retiring Rep. Ralph Regula’s (R) backing.

Buckeye State Democrats also say Schuring has never had a tough race — an assessment the Republican denies. Schuring points to his 1994 state House and 2002 state Senate races, which he said he won with 64 percent and 58 percent of the vote, respectively.

“I think that any time I get involved in a seat that’s an open race, some people underestimate [me],” he said.

Schuring said he was “encouraged” by his campaign’s recently released poll, which showed him leading Boccieri 40 percent to 34 percent, with 26 percent undecided. The Tarrance Group poll surveyed 400 registered likely voters July 8-9 and had a margin of error of 4.9 points.

But Stark County Democratic Party Chairman Johnnie Maier said Schuring should have a bigger lead given the district has had Republicans representing it in Congress for more than 50 years.

“He should be in double-digit leads,” Maier said. “It’s a Republican-leaning district, and John Boccieri is a Senator who represents a very small fraction of the district. … He should have more than a 6-point lead.”

Schuring’s state Senate district since 2003 comprises almost all of Stark County, which makes up about 65 percent of the Congressional district’s population. Stark County is also the most Democratic part of the district, though Boccieri’s state Senate seat only includes a sliver of it.

“John’s got some work to do, but I think he’s going to be fine,” Maier said. “For some reason, they feel the need to show that their guy is ahead [because] the perception is that he isn’t.”

Meanwhile, Republicans have been trying to score political points by pointing out that Boccieri doesn’t have deep roots in the Congressional district.

In fact, a Boccieri campaign aide said the Democrat moved into the 16th district about a month ago. The aide could not say whether Boccieri has rented or bought his new home, but called the move “permanent.”

Nonetheless, Boccieri’s move has been an easy target for Republicans, who are quick to call him a carpetbagger.

“While John Boccieri is still trying to find his way around the district, he might try explaining to the voters why he is at odds with them when it comes to producing more American-made energy to fight skyrocketing gas prices,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain.

However, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer pointed out that Schuring has baggage of his own from his time in the state Capitol.

“Kirk Schuring is the representative of the disastrous Taft years who voted for the largest tax increase in Ohio history, raised the state’s gas tax and has the support of the same businesses that have shipped our jobs overseas,” Rudominer said.

Boccieri’s campaign touted its recent fundraising records as proof that his campaign is taking off. Boccieri raised $391,200 in the second quarter of the year and has raised $1.08 million in the campaign so far. Schuring’s financial numbers for the second quarter were not yet available at press time Tuesday.

The April 1 to June 30 report showed Boccieri has raised more than other Democrats in competitive races — both incumbents and challengers — in the Buckeye state.

“John Boccieri has always been willing to take on the tough fights — as a voice for change in Columbus and during his 14 years in the military — and our message of fighting for middle-class Ohio families has really struck a chord,” campaign manager Ian Walton said.

But the end result might have more to do with the district than the candidates. The 16th district has been heavily gerrymandered and incorporates demographics from wealthy suburban Cleveland to Appalachia and rural farm land.

Though Democrats have made inroads in Stark County, it’s unclear how a presidential turnout would affect the district. Stark County was the only county in Ohio that switched from voting for President Bush in 2000 to the Democratic column in 2004, according to Maier.

What’s more, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) carried the district over Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in the presidential primary by 20 points.

“I’m not sure that all those people who voted are Barack Obama supporters, but of course we’ll find out in November,” Schuring said.