Will McEwen Challenge Schmidt?

Months after she won a narrow primary victory and closer-than-expected special election, Congress’s newest member may be facing a spirited renomination challenge next May.

Sources in Ohio’s 2nd District (Hamilton County) say that Rep. Jean Schmidt–famed for her clash over Iraq on the House floor with Rep. John Murtha (D.-Pa.)–may well have a rematch with the Republican whom she topped by 700 votes to win nomination for the special election:  former six-term Rep. Bob McEwen.  

Friends and supporters of McEwen, who lost his former seat after unfavorable redistricting in 1991, say that the stalwart conservative is leaning toward another race for Congress against Schmidt in May of ’06. The difference from his primary bid this year, the same sources told me, is that the 55-year-old McEwen will likely have a one-on-one match with former state legislator Schmidt instead of being just one candidate in a crowded field.

In the last primary in the 2nd District–necessitated by the resignation of former Republican Rep. Rob Portman to become U.S. Trade Representative–Schmidt and McEwen were joined by State Rep. Tom Brinkman and Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine, son of Sen. Mike DeWine (R.-Ohio).  

McEwen’s backers believe his loss to Schmidt was due in large part to a TV blitz on behalf of fellow conservative Brinkman that was funded by the conservative Club for Growth.  (Following the race, in which Brinkman placed third, a club spokesman told me his group supported Brinkman but "had nothing against Bob McEwen," and did not want a victory by Schmidt–who voted for a sales tax increase requested by Republican Gov. Robert Taft).  In addition, McEwen’s fund-raising was hampered by the candidacy of fourth-place finisher DeWine, who had the backing of many reliable GOP donors out of respect for his senator-father.  Neither Brinkman nor DeWine are considered likely to run for the seat again.

Schmidt has been under fire at home and in Washington for her statement on the House floor claiming she had received a call from Col. Danny Bubp, a GOP legislator in the Buckeye State and reserve colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.  "He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message," Schmidt told her colleagues during the nationally televisied session, "that cowards cut and run, Marines never do."  

The statement prompted boos and hoots and within minutes, the junior congresswoman withdrew her words and wrote a letter of apology to Murtha.  At home, the Cincinnati Enquirer, which endorsed Schmidt in the special election, denoucned her statement; Bupf himself, who campaigned in uniform for Schmidt, put out a statement denying he had made the controversial remarks about his fellow Republican and said "there was no intendt to ever disparage the congressman or his distinguised record of service for our nation."  Murtha is a 37-year-Marine Corps veteran who was highly decorated for his combat service in Vietnam.

Schmidt defeated another Marine veteran, Paul Hackett, in a close special election.  Following the exchange with Murtha, Hackett put out a statement denouncing Schmidt’s remarks as "irresponsible and at worst grossly unpatriotic."  Although he is currently seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose the elder DeWine for the Senate next year, Hackett is under strong pressure from state and national Democrats to run again in the 2nd District.  

Asked about the possibility of McEwen running in the primary, Schmidt spokesman Barry Bennett told me, "People need to look at polling long and hard and realize it is very hard to beat an incumbent."  Insisting that the mail to Schmidt’s office was "80-to-20 in favor of her position on Iraq," Bennett added that his boss "apologized to Mr. Murtha but did not apologize for the message."