Ney declines to notice his unorthodox challenger

Ohio Republicans are alarmed and amused by James Harris's attempt to dethrone Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), who is in danger of indictment, having been named as the infamous "Representative #1" in the plea agreement lobbyist Jack Abramoff reached with government prosecutors.

While Harris is on the ballot, he has not spent the $5,000 that would require him to file a report with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Harris's introduction to the GOP and media establishment has come from his long-winded press releases and meandering e-mails to reporters, incorporating teen-speak, made-up words and snippets of famous poems.

These press releases have Republicans worrying and laughing at the same time.

Harris, casting himself as the conservative and squeaky-clean outsider, says he has no paid campaign aides and writes the press releases himself. He sends releases out two or three times a week.

On Monday he told reporters that he has met "thousands" of Republicans in the 18th Congressional District and that he would be the only chartered financial analyst in Congress if elected. The first two pages of the seven-page release are dedicated to Harris's campaign; the remaining five incorporate news items, including part of a recent Vanity Fair article that describes a mutually beneficial friendship between Ney and Abramoff.

When Ney questioned the seriousness of Harris's campaign, based on Harris's failure to file an FEC report, Harris wrote that "Ney, the entrenched incumbent, is complaining to the party and the media that Harris is not spending enough money! Duh!"

He continued, "I'm a farmer's son. I'm frugal with my campaign dollars and if elected, I'll be frugal with our taxpayer dollars."

Harris is struggling against low name recognition. And the struggle has not always appeared to be worth the effort.

When the House voted to renew the USA Patriot Act, Harris tried to make an issue out of Ney's past opposition to the legislation and implored the incumbent to vote for renewal. After Ney did so, he dismissed the idea that Harris had swayed him.

Ney spokesman Brian Walsh said, "Ney could not even tell you which borough of New York City Mr. Harris has been living in the last 10 years before moving to Ohio, let alone where he purports to stand on particular pieces of legislation."

Harris responded to this slighting remark by saying he had been scheduled to attend a meeting in the World Trade Center later on Sept. 11, 2001, and was therefore a "near-miss target."

"That [comment] threw him into the nutty," an Ohio Republican lawmaker said.

Walsh said in an e-mail, "Bob Ney has made no complaints or any attacks towards James Harris for the simple reason, like the vast majority of folks in the 18th District, he's never heard of him.

Harris invented the word "lobbymander" this month to describe the intersection of lobbyists and lawmakers earmarking money to pay for small projects in congressional districts.

"I think it's a great word," Harris said, and he derided lawmakers and lobbyists who favor earmarks as "pork brokers."

On St. Patrick's Day, Harris emailed a lengthy missive to reporters at the Chillicothe Gazette to correct what he perceived as inaccuracies about his ties to Ohio in a recent profile.

"Two pages and a whole lot of rambling later, Harris's 'quick summary' has become a full-fledged genealogical study and family resume that still leaves all of the original questions unanswered," a GOP blogger wrote at lincolnlogsblog.com.

The Ohio Republican Party tried and failed to find a credible candidate to challenge Ney by the Feb. 16 filing deadline. Harris is expected to lose to Ney in the May 2 primary, and the GOP establishment is not taking Harris seriously. That could leave the party with a candidate under indictment in the November election.

Ney, for his part, has refused to engage Harris.

"There will be a time and place for campaigning, but right now Bob Ney is focused on doing his job and setting the record straight with his constituents after many months of misleading stories by the national media," Walsh said, referring to Ney's ties with Abramoff.

Walsh added, "For all I know, his campaign is nothing more than a cover for his real bid for a master's in creative writing."