News: Cincinnati Bucks the Trend

Democrats take the House, but not local races

Nov 8, 2006 at 2:06 pm
Joe Lamb

Caption: U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot reacts with equal parts relief and joy as he bucks the national trend of Republican incumbents losing their seats.

Bucking the national trend, Republican incumbents Steve Chabot and Jean Schmidt held onto their congressional seats in the Nov. 7 election, but both with closer margins than either probably predicted.

Chabot, a 12-year GOP incumbent, was re-elected to represent Ohio's 1st District in Congress by a 52-48 percent margin over Democratic challenger John Cranley.

Schmidt's victory was even narrower: She won Ohio's 2nd District seat by a 51-49 percent margin over Democratic challenger Victoria Wulsin.

Both incumbents appeared weary but relieved as midnight approached and the outcomes became clear, after a night fraught with slow vote tallies that caused front-runner status in each race to flip-flop several times.

For Chabot, the close finish was sobering for a lawmaker who typically has finished far ahead of his rivals. In 2000, when Cranley last faced Chabot, the Republican won by 9 percentage points, with a Libertarian candidate capturing 2 percent of the vote. Now, with Republicans beset by scandals at home and the increasingly bloody Iraq War abroad, Chabot was appreciative of the opportunity for another term.

"It was a challenging year, but that we survived in this environment, I think, says something," Chabot told a gleeful crowd of supporters that gathered to celebrate at Champs sports bar in downtown's Hyatt Regency Hotel.

Next time?
With Democrats taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Chabot's influence in Washington might be severely limited.

Still, he pledged to cooperate in a bipartisan fashion when possible while remaining true to his fundamental principles of low taxes and limited government.

"I'm going to go back and work just as hard as I have for the past 12 years," Chabot said.

Just a block north of Chabot's party, the mood was much different. Cranley, a member of Cincinnati City Council, looked forlorn as he addressed supporters at the High Spirits Lounge at the Millennium Hotel. Entering the room to make his concession speech at 11:58 p.m., Cranley began by saying he tried to call and congratulate Chabot but couldn't reach the congressman.

"If anyone's listening, please have him call me back," Cranley told the crowd.

With his fiancé at his side, Cranley was philosophical about his defeat.

"We tried to make this country better and fight for higher ideals," he said. "This campaign has not been in vain."

After a brief speech, Cranley's circle of closest staff and friends began hugging and some wept, as the crowd chanted, "Next time, next time." Once the chanting stopped, however, an awkward silence filled the room as people stood shoulder to shoulder, wondering what to do next.

Unofficial results show Chabot receiving 94,540 votes compared to Cranley's 87,208.

During the campaign, Cranley focused on Chabot's unflagging support for President Bush, hammering the statistic that Chabot has voted to support Bush's positions on issues 92 percent of the time during the current congressional session. With polls indicating deep public anger and misgiving about Bush's handling of the Iraq War, the strategy was seen as a surefire approach to damage Chabot.

Although a similar strategy worked for Democrats in other House races nationwide, it might have backfired on Cranley. The Chabot campaign countered by spotlighting Cranley's own shifting positions on the war. In 2003, as the United States was preparing to invade Iraq, Cincinnati City Council members David Crowley and Alicia Reece tried to get support for a resolution opposing the impending war but the pair pulled the resolution after several of their colleagues, including Cranley, refused to sign it.

While running for Congress, Cranley said he opposes the Iraq War and supports the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops to begin in 2006, but with no specific end date. Chabot described the stance as Monday morning quarterbacking and said it reveals a naiveté about foreign policy. Chabot says U.S. troops shouldn't begin a withdrawal until Iraqi security forces are fully trained and equipped.

Chabot and Cranley are both West Side Catholics who are attorneys, but they differ on crucial issues. Cranley opposes privatization of Social Security, while Chabot supports letting future beneficiaries to earmark some of their contributions to private investment accounts. Also, Cranley supports increasing the minimum wage, which Chabot opposes.

Schmidt barely ahead
In the 2nd District race, Schmidt might not have cause to celebrate just yet. Squeaking ahead of Wulsin by just 2,943 votes, the race's outcome could change once provisional ballots and overseas ballots are tallied. Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke said "thousands" of such ballots remain to be counted.

As a result, Wulsin hasn't yet conceded. The situation didn't deter the controversial Schmidt from declaring victory, but she conceded the days ahead might be difficult for her and her party.

"We've got a lot of work to do," Schmidt said at the Clermont County Republican Party's headquarters in Batavia. "This has not been an easy night for Republicans across the nation."

Unofficial results show Schmidt receiving 115,621 votes to Wulsin's 112,678, according to the Ohio Secretary of State's Web site.

Schmidt, a former Miami Township trustee, first won the office in a special election last year to replace Rob Portman, who left to accept a position in Bush's cabinet. After two months in office, Schmidt generated public outrage and was mocked in a Saturday Night Live skit after she implied in a speech on the House floor that U.S. Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and a decorated Vietnam War veteran, was a coward for suggesting that the United States pull out of Iraq.

Since that time, Schmidt has been dogged by Democrats and some Republicans for being politically inexperienced and overly confrontational. ©