Races of the Week

Ohio’s 7th District

Austria vs. Neuhardt

When Clarence Brown, Sr. was first elected to Congress from Ohio’s 7th District in 1938, the pattern was set for the next 70 years, during which conservative Republicans would hold the House seat.  

The fourth GOP congressman since ’38 to represent the 7th, Dave Hobson, is retiring after 18 years. The GOP nominee to replace him is State Sen. Steve Austria, whose senate district includes roughly half the congressional district. By any yardstick of history, his election should be game, set, and match.  

But it’s not so easy. Like Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Buckeye State has taken some big hits in its manufacturing sector, and there is rumbling against Republicans in towns such as Springfield and Xenia in the 7th. In addition, Democrats have come up with a candidate with considerable fund-raising prowess: trial attorney Sharen Schwartz Neuhardt of Yellow Springs. With support from her fellow trial attorneys and groups such as the rabidly pro-abortion EMILY’s List, Neuhardt is an unusually strong Democrat in this open district.  

“And it certainly doesn’t help when you have an opponent with no record whatsoever in any office,” observes 50-year-old Austria, the oldest of nine children and himself the father of three. “When she alters or tones down her liberal positions on taxes or spending or guns, it’s a bit difficult to point at where she took other stands.”  

So Austria, a small businessman and ten-year lawmaker, prefers to talk about his own record: pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, and decidedly anti-tax. He co-sponsored the largest income tax cut in Ohio history and was in the forefront of successful efforts to repeal business taxes he considered unfair. Austria broke with his state’s Republican governor to fight a proposed increase in the gas tax.

“And,” Austria vows, “I want to fight in Congress to eliminate the death tax and to cut the capital gains tax — if not get rid of it altogether and give small businessmen a chance to grow and create jobs.”   

Yes, Steve Austria has a record, and it’s one conservatives in Ohio and throughout the nation are sure to be proud of if he goes to Congress.

Florida’s 24th District 

Feeney vs. Kosmas

Whenever a lawmaker wears his conservatism like an Olympic Gold Medal, he or she is bound to have tough re-election challenges. It doesn’t matter how safe the district appears on paper or what the voter registration is. When you’re conservative and make no bones about it, you’re a target. 

So it is with Rep. Tom Feeney in Florida’s 24th District (Orlando). As a 36-year-old state legislator in 1994, Feeney was the lieutenant governor running mate of gubernatorial nominee Jeb Bush. Unabashedly pro-life and supporting school prayer and vouchers, the Bush-Feeney ticket narrowly lost 51 percent to 49 percent. Jeb Bush would bounce back into the governorship in 1998. Feeney, having won back a seat in the state legislature in ’96, became speaker of the house. It was in that capacity that he was the focus of national attention when, during the dispute over Florida’s electoral votes, Feeney called a controversial special session of the state house to appoint electors for George W. Bush. 

Two years later, redistricting created the new 24th District seat, and Feeney won nomination and election to it with ease. As congressman, he has operated pretty much as he did as state legislator: voting staunchly conservative (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 98 percent) and always speaking his mind. Following Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson’s address to Republican House members calling for enactment of the $700 billion financial rescue package, the Floridian remarked: “He’s a brilliant guy, but, like a lot of brilliant people, he has trouble connecting with average folks.” (Feeney voted twice against the package, which he deemed a “bailout for Wall Street”). 

Standing between Feeney and a fourth term is State Rep. Suzanne Kosmas. Of her, the conservative incumbent says: “There couldn’t be a bigger set of differences between two candidates anywhere.” 

As Feeney notes, “My opponent has supported gay marriage and I support an amendment defining marriage as a union between man and woman. She voted three times against a ban on partial-birth abortion, while I’m pro-life across the board, and she’s against voluntary prayer in public schools. That’s something I favored in Tallahassee and in Washington.” 

The differences between Feeney and Kosmas extend to economic issues. Because they both served in the Florida house, they have records on issues to compare. Recalling that they were both rated by the National Federation of Independent Business and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Feeney pointed out that “at one point or another in her eight years in Tallahassee, she got a failing grade from both of those groups and I was always near the top in their ratings. She opposed cutting property taxes, creating tax holidays and supports taxes on senior savers and investors — positions that are killing families.” 

As Tom Feeney sums up the race in Florida’s 24th District, “This is a fight between a Socialist liberal and a Reagan conservative.”  

New Mexico’s 2nd District

Tinsley vs. Teague

The modern history of New Mexico’s 2nd District (Roswell-Las Cruces) is unusual. It has been in the hands of two Republican congressmen for the past 28 years. However, during those years, whenever it was an open district with no incumbent, there was a huge battle for the seat. In 2002, when longtime Republican Rep. Joe Skeen retired, Steve Pearce won a three-candidate primary race. Both of his opponents, including restaurateur Ed Tinsley, graciously endorsed him, and Pearce won a tough general election race. 

Now Pearce is running for the Senate. Ed Tinsley’s good sportsmanship in ’02 and his years of helping other Republicans in the vineyards has paid off. The businessman-rancher, whose family has owned a ranch in Capitan for a half-century, won a contested primary earlier this year, and his opponents then endorsed him heartily. Now Tinsley faces a spirited November race. 

His Democratic opponent, Lea County Commissioner Harry Teague, reminds many people of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair of Great Britain, and Gerhard Schroeder of Germany — a “Third Way” or centrist politician whose rhetoric avoids any liberal positions. But a closer look at Teague’s words shows him to be more like Barack Obama and less like any centrist.  For example, he called for an “immediate withdrawal” of U.S. troops from Iraq and vowed to “vote to de-authorize funding for the war.” (The Democrat’s own website also shows that while he knows illegal immigrants “broke the law by coming across our border, we must find a way to include these individuals.” He opposes oil drilling in the Otero Mesa region (Albuquerque Journal, July 28, 2008) and once said, “It would be fine with me to turn in my guns and not have them.” (Albuquerque Journal, Feb. 14, 2000). 

You get the picture. With the 56-year-old Tinsley, there is no need to “amend his remarks” or “clean up” the stands he has taken: for victory in Iraq, for cleaning up the financial mess in Washington and on Wall Street, against any amnesty for illegal immigrants, for more oil drilling and exploration for more sources of energy. 

“And on our first anniversary 31 years ago,” Tinsley proudly recalls, “I gave my wife Meredith an 870 Remington 20-gauge shotgun. And that should help explain why I have an ‘A’ rating from the National Rifle Association, and the NRA endorsement.” 

And that speaks volumes about the differences between Ed Tinsley and his opponent. The GOP hopeful is all that he says he is — a straight shooter.