More Than a Grudge Match?

It is no secret in the Cincinnati area that the 56-year-old McEwen, who lost his seat in the neighboring district in 1992 following unfavorable redistricting, has long felt that the 2nd District should be his.

After losing to Democrat Ted Strickland (who is now leaving Congress to run for governor), McEwen promptly moved to the 2nd when incumbent Republican Rep. (1974-92) Bill Gradison resigned from Congress, and then McEwen ran in the special election. He narrowly lost in the primary to Rob Portman, a former staffer in the elder George Bush’s White House whose campaign featured a strong radio endorsement from First Lady Barbara Bush. It was Portman’s resignation last year to become U.S. trade representative that triggered the nationally watched special election in which Schmidt won the GOP nod and then a closer-than-expected victory over Democratic U.S. Marine reserve Colonel Paul Hackett. Despite pleas from national Democratic leaders to try again in the 2nd District, Hackett is seeking the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination and thus the May GOP primary is almost certain to determine the next congressman.

McEwen supporters insist that there are substantive differences between their man and Schmidt. They point to her vote for Taft’s taxes and her ties to the Republican governor — whose name Hackett invoked more than 20 times in one debate with Schmidt last year — and cite a statement from the congresswoman to the Associated Press that she is "not a proponent of the death penalty." Further, they note her vote for the Child Safety Act that included a rider from Rep. John Conyers (D.-Mich.) that provided for protections for homosexuals who are the subject of hate crimes. The bill, passed 371 to 52 in the House last month, was hailed as an historic step by the gay-activist Human Rights Campaign. (The amendment is awaiting action by the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.)

As for the flap involving Bopf and Murtha, McEwen would say only that he "had my own reaction, as most people did."

The congresswoman can count on support from State Republican Chairman Bob Bennett, who told reporters that the state organization does not "believe political primaries are helpful, especially when they involve incumbent Republicans." Just-elected House Majority Leader John Boehner (R.-Ohio) also weighed in strongly for the incumbent. Schmidt-man Bennett told me that "the overwhelming amount of letters and calls to our office were staunchly in Jean’s favor" after the incident. Moreover, Bennett pointed to a poll conducted for the campaign by Tarrance and Associates showing the incumbent leading McEwen 54% to 34% district wide among likely Republican voters. McEwen backers who spoke to me pooh-poohed the poll, saying it was significant that one-third of likely primary voters prefer someone other than the incumbent.

The one certainty about the 2nd District race is that it will not be boring.