Schmidt's rivals smell blood

Calling Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) “Mean Jean” and a “pathological liar,” a Republican former rival said yesterday she would almost certainly face a serious primary challenge next year.

“I don’t know who it will be,” state Rep. Tom Brinkman said in an interview with The Hill. “It could be me. It could be Bob McEwen. I think it’s important that she have one challenger to beat her. You don’t want two or three or four because it splits up the vote. I think she’s in serious political trouble.”

Schmidt beat Brinkman and McEwen, a former congressman, in a special, 11-candidate GOP primary in July for the seat vacated by former Rep. Rob Portman (R) and squeaked out a general-election victory against Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett (D).

Brinkman’s comments follow remarks made by Schmidt on the House floor attacking Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) for calling on the United States to withdraw troops from Iraq. Schmidt also said at the time that she had spoken with a former Marine colonel who, she said, called Murtha a coward for backing a pullout. The former Marine colonel, state Rep. Danny Bubp (R), later denied mentioning Murtha, a former Marine himself, by name and said he would never call a fellow Marine a coward.

Referring to the Bubp incident, Brinkman said: “That’s typical Jean Schmidt. … It was a total lie. She will say anything that sounds good. That’s just her. People refer to it back here as ‘Schmidt stories.’”

Schmidt’s chief of staff, Barry Bennett, called Brinkman “the king of outrageous comments” and “a fringe player in politics in Cincinnati.” As for a possible primary challenge from Brinkman, Bennett said, “Bring it on.”

Brinkman said the GOP House primary returns from this past summer would likely determine Schmidt’s challenger in the May 2 primary. The filing deadline is Feb. 16.

“There’s a pecking order. I didn’t come in second,” Brinkman said. Referring to McEwen, he added: “I’ll have to defer to the guy who came in second.”

Pat DeWine, a Hamilton County official and the son of Sen. Mike DeWine (R), had been the early favorite in the GOP House primary, but he came in fourth after spending a fortune attacking McEwen.

McEwen declined to discuss his plans in a brief interview this week, saying only that he was weighing his options.

Brinkman said McEwen has been all but officially campaigning for the seat, in the state’s 2nd District, stretching from the Cincinnati suburbs to the rural areas east of the city.

That effort includes, Brinkman said, shoring up McEwen’s support among elected officials and pastors who backed him last time.

Bennett, Schmidt’s chief of staff, said McEwen had signaled he might run for senator, governor or secretary of state. He added that McEwen no longer lives in the district.

While the 2nd remains solidly Republican — President Bush won there in 2004 with 64 percent of the vote — Hackett’s showing has unnerved many Republicans in Ohio and Washington.

“We’d be naive not to be concerned,” said Maggie Nafziger, the political director for the Hamilton County Republican Party. Hamilton County is the largest population hub in the 2nd District.

Republican officials have said several circumstantial factors led to the close election, in which Schmidt beat Hackett by 52-48 percent: An unpopular Republican governor, mounting uneasiness with the war and a charismatic, if unschooled, Democratic challenger perceived to speak honestly about a conflict he knows intimately.

Hackett is now running against Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) for the Democratic nomination to take on Sen. DeWine in 2006.

A Democratic source in Washington said Democratic officials want Hackett to run for the House seat again. Other possible Democratic contenders include David Pepper, a former Cincinnati mayoral candidate. Adrienne Elrod, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Schmidt’s comments on the House floor had embarrassed the congresswoman and distracted the Congress from the debate over the Iraq war.

Turning to the Senate race, Brinkman said DeWine, too, could face an insurmountable challenge. “I think either of them would beat him,” Brinkman said of Hackett and Brown. He added that the senator’s opposition to some gun rights had hurt him, giving Hackett, a strong backer of Second Amendment rights, a better shot in the general election.

DeWine’s role in the bipartisan judicial-nominees pact over the summer had alienated many conservatives, Brinkman said.

And the senator’s aggressive “shakedown” of business leaders in Cincinnati for his son’s House campaign had upset many GOP fundraisers, Brinkman said. “They said that Mike DeWine should be ashamed of himself,” he said. “He was virtually threatening people if they didn’t contribute.”

A spokesman for the senator’s campaign did not return a phone message.