Rep. Jean Schmidt: Why the four-term Ohio congresswoman lost

Less than a week after the unexpected defeat of Ohio’s Rep. Jean Schmidt in the Republican primary, national political reporters are still trying to explain the upset none of us saw coming.  To read most of the analysis from outside the Buckeye State, the four-term congresswoman was defeated because a “SuperPAC” from Houston mobilized the “tea partiers” in Ohio’s 2nd District against her through spirited attacks on her votes such as that to raise the debt ceiling last year.

So, one usually concludes, Schmidt lost to physician and Iraq War veteran Brad Wenstrup because she angered the tea party and thus became its first victim.

The problem with that conclusion is that it is only part of the story of the woman known widely as “Mean Jean” becoming the first Republican House Member to be denied re-nomination.

Since she narrowly won a four-candidate primary in ’05 after the resignation of then-Rep. (now Sen.) Rob Portman to become U.S. Trade Representative, former State Rep. Schmidt has never been able to unite the area GOP around her.  Since ’06, when the freshman GOP lawmaker edged out former Rep. Bob McEwen in the primary, Schmidt has faced primary opposition.  In the ’05 special election and two of her three general election contests, Schmidt won with a plurality of the votes—a very unimpressive showing in one of Ohio’s two most Republican congressional districts.

“Jean could never nail down the 2nd District or unite the Republican Party because, quite frankly, a lot of Republicans here just didn’t like her,” said one area GOP activist who requested anonymity.

Another problem for the Republican lawmaker was a photograph of her kissing President Obama as he entered the House Chamber to address Congress.  The “kiss picture,” was widely distributed by her opponent through mail and the Internet, apparently had an effect on primary voters in the 2nd District akin to that of then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s public embrace of Obama among Florida Republicans last in 2010 (Crist eventually left the GOP and ran for the Senate as an independent, and lost).

Also hanging over the congresswoman was a decision by the House Ethics Committee last year that she acted improperly by permitting the Turkish Coalition of America to secretly pay her legal bills over  long-standing litigation stemming over a Democratic opponent’s characterization of her position on Armenian genocide.  Although the panel did not find Schmidt guilty of any crime, she agreed to reimburse the estimated $500,000 in legal payments from the group.

Opponent Wenstrup had never held office but to call him a “newcomer” or “outsider” is a reach.  Last year, with the full support of the local GOP establishment, he waged a strong bid for mayor of Cincinnati and had resulting name recognition that surely helped in his defeat of Schmidt.

“But you do have to give the Committee for Public Accountability [SuperPAC] a lot of credit,” Portsmouth attorney Eddie Edwards, an area GOP activist, told HUMAN EVENTS, “We got mailings at home and heard radio spots that slammed her regularly on the debt ceiling vote and the Wall Street bailouts and for her vote [in the legislature] to raise the sales tax.  That was a big part of why she lost.”

True, but it is clear it wasn’t the only reason she lost.  Ethics controversy and local animosity had something to do with it—and one could say her fate was also sealed with a kiss.


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