Ohio’s Limits Tip Races

Posted November 19, 2008 at 6:41pm

For Republicans and Democrats in Ohio, the Congressional recruitment bench can only get deeper.

Where parties had problems recruiting candidates for challenging 2008 Congressional races, many popular state legislators are now term-limited out of office and might opt to run in 2010.

Term limits, which took effect in 2000, allow Ohio state lawmakers to serve a maximum of eight years in each chamber — four two-year terms in the state House of Representatives or two four-year terms in the state Senate.

The result of this growing bench? An ever-expanding playing field in the Buckeye State. And Republicans’ first move could be in the 18th district, where Rep. Zack Space (D) got a free pass to re-election in 2008 after top-tier Republican legislators opted not to challenge the freshman lawmaker.

Space was elected with 62 percent in 2006 after his predecessor, then-Rep. Bob Ney (R), was convicted on corruption charges. Space got 60 percent of the vote in 2008 in the traditionally Republican district.

Although state Rep. Jay Hottinger (R) said it’s his “lifetime goal” to run for Congress, he opted not to run against Space the past two cycles. Hottinger said he declined to challenge Ney in the Republican primary in 2006 — despite a plea from the White House — or run against Space in 2008, when Republicans were expected to have another challenging cycle in the state.

“We said ‘no’ for multiple reasons,” Hottinger said. “One, obviously it’s all a matter of timing and my biggest concern was serving in the minority [in Congress] and not being able to have an effective voice.”

A veteran of the state Capitol, Hottinger served in the state House until 1998, was term-limited out of the state Senate in 2006, but now has six years left in the state House before he must step down. With the end of his term still a long time away, Hottinger can be choosier than his colleagues about the best opportunity to challenge Space.

“The people who have been successful in the political world are the people who know when to strike at the right time,” he said. “If you’re recognizing it is going to be a good year, then it might be too late and other people might be recognizing it as well.”

State Sen. John Carey (R) might find the “right time” to run for Congress this cycle, when he will be term-limited out of the Senate. Although Carey could not be reached for comment, his name has been circulated as a possible challenger for Space in 2010 and beyond.

But for others serving in the Ohio state Capitol, the “right time” was the 2008 Congressional cycle, when the first round of term-limited lawmakers were forced to leave office. Rep.-elect Steve Austria (R) was term-limited out of the state Senate and ran for the open seat in the 7th district, while Rep.-elect Steve Driehaus (D) was term-limited out of the state House in 2008 and successfully challenged Rep. Steve Chabot (R) in the 1st district.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said that state Legislature’s term limits not only help with recruitment, but also help force some longtime Members of Congress — particularly those who might be wary of a strong challenger — into retirement.

Redfern cited Republican Rep. Ralph Regula’s retirement in the 2008 cycle as one possible example.

“I think it also shows, it gives the impetus to Republicans who are thinking about retiring to go ahead and do that,” Redfern said.

In fact, Redfern himself is not eligible to run for another term in the state House because of the same limits.

Democrats say their 2008 cycle wins in the 1st district and in Regula’s 16th district — where state Sen. John Boccieri (D) defeated fellow state Sen. Kirk Schuring (R) — were just a start. Meanwhile, a very close race in the 15th district for retiring Rep. Deborah Pryce’s (R) seat remains undecided.

“With the pickup of the Chabot seat, Regula seat and the Pryce seat, we’ve won the seats that are apparent,” Redfern said.

The next set of targeted Republicans will likely include Reps. Patrick Tiberi and Steven LaTourette, both of whom received less than 60 percent in their 2008 re-election campaigns against little-known and poorly funded Democratic opponents.

Among others, state Sen. Ray Miller (D) will be ineligible to run for his seat again in 2010 and, according to a Democratic insider, could challenge Tiberi in the 12th district. Former state Rep. Ed Jerse (D), who lost the Democratic primary to challenge LaTourette in 2004, is also said to be a possible candidate against the Republican Member.

And should Democrats not emerge victorious in Ohio’s 15th district, where no winner has been called yet in the race between state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) and Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D), another term-limited lawmaker could run in 2010: Minority Leader Joyce Beatty (D) cannot run again for her state House seat.