Election Guide: Ohio 1st and 2nd Congressional Districts: Chabot vs. Pureval, Wenstrup vs. Schiller

The fight between Democrat Aftab Pureval and Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot has gotten national attention. In Ohio's 2nd Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup and his challenger Democrat Jill Schiller wage a similar battle.

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click to enlarge U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (left) and Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval
U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (left) and Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval

Perhaps the hottest race in Ohio this year has been the epic contest between U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, a Republican, and his challenger, Democrat Aftab Pureval.

The contest between the 65-year-old incumbent, a 22-year congressional veteran, and the upstart 35-year-old political newcomer has drawn national attention. It’s also unleashed a barrage of acrimony and negative ads.

Pureval has quickly become a rising star in the local Democratic Party after his 2016 win over Republican Tracy Winkler to become Hamilton County Clerk of Courts. He’s looking to parlay that momentum into a seat in the U.S. House — a quest for which he’s received an endorsement from former President Barack Obama, among other noted Democrats. But conservative groups and Chabot’s campaign aren’t taking the challenge lying down.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a PAC supported by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, made a $1.2 million ad buy attempting to tie Pureval to a $1.5 billion settlement between the U.S. and the Libyan government for terrorism victims. White & Case, the law firm representing Libya in that settlement, later employed Pureval, then a recent law school graduate. But Pureval had nothing to do with the settlement, which Republican lawmakers in Congress voted for and which Republican President George W. Bush signed.

But Pureval has also struggled under somewhat more substantive allegations, including an Ohio Elections Commission inquiry into his campaign finances. Earlier this year, Pureval’s clerk of courts campaign spent more than $16,000 on polling and other expenses that appeared to be more related to his congressional run. That would be a violation of federal election laws.

Further muddying the waters, a Democrat Hamilton County Elections Commission employee admitted to blacking out memo sections on two checks from Pureval’s campaign as it was filing expenditure disclosure forms. One memo section was blank. The other said “polling,” likely referring to a poll seemingly related to Pureval’s congressional bid. The state election commissions inquiry is ongoing.

Some questions have also followed Chabot’s campaign — mostly related to the roughly $177,000 Chabot’s campaign paid his son-in-law for creating his campaign’s website and other work around the campaign. Hamilton County Democratic Party Co-Chair Connie Pillich filed a federal elections complaint related to that spending in August, saying the price Chabot’s son-in-law was paid for the services he rendered is much too high and amounts to self-dealing by Chabot.

The race has also had some substantive discussion of policy, mostly around health care, where Pureval has accused Chabot of working to take away coverage for pre-existing conditions extended by the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Chabot has denied this, though he and other Congressional Republicans cast votes to repeal the ACA, including its provisions guaranteeing coverage for those with preexisting conditions.

Chabot for his part has worked to paint Pureval as too far-left for the district, pointing out he’s pro-choice and supports sanctuary cities. 

The two danced around other issues at an Oct. 16 candidate forum (watch here) that also included U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, the incumbent battling with Democrat challenger Jill Schiller to keep his Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District seat to the east of Cincinnati.

At the forum, Pureval and Chabot squared off on Republicans’ recent tax reforms, which proponents say has helped the economy pick up steam. But, as a moderator pointed out, it has also ballooned the national deficit. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated it will increase the federal government’s deficit by $1 trillion over the next decade.

Pureval said that Republicans’ reforms amounted to tax cuts for the rich and pointed out that, while unemployment has dropped and the stock market has surged, wages have remained static.

Chabot, meanwhile, defended the tax plan and accused Pureval of trying to undermine tax cuts for the middle-class provided in the initial phases of the tax plan. Pureval has denied this.

Other local issues remained murky. Neither Pureval nor Chabot presented a plan for paying for infrastructure needs in the region, including the aging Brent Spence Bridge and Western Hills Viaduct, though Chabot claimed he has worked to secure millions for the former.

Pureval seemed to be catching up with Chabot earlier this year, with national poll watchers like Sabato’s Crystal Ball calling the race a toss-up. But questions around campaign finances may have tripped up Pureval to some degree — Sabato’s recently moved the race back to “leans Republican,” and polls show Chabot with a comfortable lead weeks before the election. Still, Pureval has worked an extensive ground game, especially in Warren County. He’s not likely to get a majority of votes in the deep-red Republican haven, but a stronger-than-expected showing there could tip the race in his favor should he also take increasingly-blue Hamilton County by a large margin.

Less publicized, but similar, is the battle between incumbent Republican Wenstrup, a 60-year-old doctor and Columbia Tusculum resident who has since 2013 held Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District encompassing downtown and areas east into rural, heavily-Republican territory. His challenger, Schiller, is pushing Wenstrup with many of the same strategies as Pureval — calling out his votes to defund the Affordable Care Act, his role in the Republican tax reforms and his alignment with President Donald Trump on many issues.

Schiller is an attorney who formerly worked for the Obama administration in the White House Office of Management and Budget. Like Pureval, she’s made health care a major issue in the campaign. She says she would act to help make sure government health care options cover those who can’t get private insurance. Schiller’s challenge to Wenstrup isn’t as close as Pureval’s bid against Chabot has been — in part due to name recognition and in part due to the fact that Wenstrup’s district covers much more rural, conservative ground. But Schiller is hoping that dissatisfaction with Trump and the fact that she’s Wenstrup’s first serious challenger in two election cycles will work in her favor.

Pureval and Chabot faced off in another fiery debate Oct. 24, which you can watch here. The two will go at it a final time Oct. 30.

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