Republicans hope Foltin can play offense in Ohio

Ohio is supposed to be case study No. 1 in why Democrats could take over Congress this November.
It has almost all the pieces, including a severely unpopular Republican governor in Bob Taft, a vulnerable Republican congressman facing possible indictment in Bob Ney and a Republican senator fighting for his life in Mike DeWine.

Ohio is supposed to be case study No. 1 in why Democrats could take over Congress this November.

It has almost all the pieces, including a severely unpopular Republican governor in Bob Taft, a vulnerable Republican congressman facing possible indictment in Bob Ney and a Republican senator fighting for his life in Mike DeWine.

Republicans have a well-known shot to take over the open seat of gubernatorial candidate Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio), but National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) also has his eye on the open seat held by DeWine’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Sherrod Brown, showing that Republicans aren’t content to play only defense in the state.

Asked last week about Republicans’ best pickup chances, Reynolds was quick to mention Brown’s 13th District. It is heavily Democratic and an uphill battle for anyone without a “D” next to his or her name, but GOP nominee Craig Foltin is used to winning under such circumstances.

Foltin is the two-term mayor of Lorain, Ohio, where there are five registered Democrats for every Republican and where he’s the only elected official from his party in more than decade.

He will need to muster all of that crossover appeal to defeat Democratic nominee Betty Sutton in a district that routinely gave Brown 60-plus percent of the vote and where Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry won by 12 percentage points in 2004.

But Foltin says his support in his hometown creates a level playing field. His campaign has calculated that substituting President Bush’s 29 percent showing in Lorain in 2004 with Foltin’s 55 percent reelection clip from 2003 makes the entire district divided almost 50-50.

Still, he has no delusions about where he stands at this point in the race.

“Admittedly, I’m the underdog,” he said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee considers the seat safe, and an independent poll released last week by SurveyUSA confirms that Foltin has some serious ground to make up; he trails 48-30. The poll included an independent candidate who will no longer be on the ballot, but it’s not clear to which candidate her 6 percent is likely to shift.

Another poll, released last month by Sutton’s campaign, shows the Democrat leading 58-27. But the numbers paralleled the generic ballot, suggesting that many voters weren’t familiar with the candidates yet. Her campaign has declined to release the whole poll.

Sutton campaign consultant Maura Dougherty said Foltin shouldn’t count on support from his base, pointing to the fact that Sutton got nearly 2,300 more votes in Lorain County in the primary than Foltin did. The Democratic primary was more hotly contested and had more than twice the turnout — about 25,000 votes. Lorain city accounts for about one-third of the 13th District part of Lorain County.

“It’s an indicator that folks weren’t dying to turn out for him,” Dougherty said.

Sutton is a labor attorney who has the backing of unions and EMILY’s List, which works for female politicians who support abortion rights. She has raised $800,000, more than twice as much as Foltin, but she used much of it in a heated primary that included former Rep. Tom Sawyer (D).

National Republicans are excited about Foltin’s fundraising ability, in addition to his crossover appeal. He blew away old fundraising records by raising $400,000 in his mayoral campaigns. So far he has received $110,000 of his $375,000 from members’ political action committees.

“If it wasn’t for Craig Foltin, we wouldn’t even be looking at this district,” NRCC spokesman Ed Patru said.

Reynolds said he’s “fascinated by this guy” and compared Foltin’s candidacy to that of Reynolds’s fellow New York Republican, former Rep. Jack Quinn. Quinn shocked the country when he won an open seat representing heavily Democratic Buffalo in 1992. President Bill Clinton won the district 59-29 in 1996.

Before retiring in 2004, Quinn won reelection five times, taking maverick positions on issues such as the minimum wage and the Republican budget and tax cuts.

Foltin also wants to raise the minimum wage, but he struggled to think of many other issues where he bucks his party. He toes the party line on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.

He said his appeal to Democrats is more about what he’s done than what he believes in, noting that he has helped revitalize a declining manufacturing town of 70,000 people and reduced unemployment from double digits to 6 percent.

He said that Brown has worked hard on important issues for district voters but that he has serious qualms about how much money the seven-term congressman has brought back to the district.

“We haven’t gotten any earmarks, very few grants, and certainly anything we have gotten in the district has been through Mike DeWine’s office or Sen. [George] Voinovich [R],” he said. “In that respect, Sherrod has really hurt us, and the most important thing I think I could do is bring a few bucks back to the district.”

Vice President Cheney joined Foltin at a fundraiser in May — the candidate noted his differences with Cheney on casinos and the trade agreements — and House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) will be at another fundraiser for him Aug. 1.

But there was one noticeable name absent from invitations to a Foltin fundraiser in June — that of Ney. While the invitations listed the 13 other Republicans in the Ohio congressional delegation, Ney, who has been investigated in connection with the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, was left off.

Foltin said he had nothing to do with the invitation: “There was a different campaign manager at the time, and I really can’t answer why that occurred.”