In Ohio, Stivers (R) expected to attempt second run at Kilroy

Ohio Republicans keen on a big year could soon have another weapon in their arsenal, with former state Sen. Steve Stivers preparing for a rematch with Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D).

Stivers has set a July 4 deadline for himself to make a final decision on the 2010 race, but local and national Republicans expect him to make a second straight run at the seat, and he’s made no secret of his desire to try again.

Former Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), whose retirement led to the open seat race in 2008, said Tuesday that she’s talked to Stivers recently and that she fully expects him to run.

“He wants to, and he’s definitely exploring it and working at it,” Pryce said. “I have every expectation that that will happen.”

Stivers’s entry would be the latest development for a state GOP that has suffered big losses in recent years but feels strongly about its starting lineup for 2010.

The party has already landed a top gubernatorial candidate in former Rep. John Kasich, a top Senate candidate in former Rep. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe case for bipartisan solutions GOP lawmakers condemn attempted attacks on Democrats Trump takes steps to punish Saudi Arabia MORE and could soon have former Sen. Mike DeWine running for state attorney general as well.

An Ohio Republican source said it is widely expected that Stivers will enter the race soon.

“I would expect that he does,” the source said. “It’s not even worth looking at other candidates at this point.”

Stivers said he needed to tie up loose ends with his family — his wife is due to have a child in September — but he clearly wants to finish what he started.

“I need to talk to my family and work through some things to make sure I’ve got my family’s support,” Stivers said. “If I do, and I think I do, it’s tempting — very tempting — to want to do it again.”

Stivers fell to Kilroy by less than 1 percent in 2008, but Republicans are banking on a more favorable turnout model in 2010.

Kilroy was one of two freshman Democrats to benefit significantly from increased turnout on a major college campus. The 15th congressional district includes Columbus-based Ohio State University — the largest school in the country.

Ohio State’s 50,000 students undoubtedly helped Kilroy in 2008, but their turnout is expected to plummet in a midterm election, especially since President Obama will not be on the ticket. Stivers said a lower turnout will help him.

“Everything kind of broke against me at the end, with the financial crisis in September and the big turnout on the Ohio State University campus,” he said. “A lot of people came out and voted a straight ticket with Obama and didn’t really even give me an opportunity.”

The argument is similar to the one being made by former Rep. Steve Chabot (R), who will try to reclaim his seat from Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) in the Cincinnati-based 1st district. Black voters there, who represent about a quarter of the district, turned out in greater-than-usual numbers for Obama.

Kilroy’s team doesn’t buy the turnout argument, noting that she came within about 1,000 votes of defeating the 14-year incumbent Pryce in another midterm year in 2006. They note that the district has trended very Democratic in recent years, going from 52-44 for President Bush in 2000 to 54-45 for Obama in 2008.

“That trend has been moving in our direction for quite some time,” said a source close to Kilroy. The source emphasized the inroads Kilroy has made outside Columbus-based Franklin County, where she served as commissioner before being elected to Congress.

The source also said Kilroy would actually be more concerned about running against state Sen. Jim Hughes, who has reportedly been weighing the race as well.

Hughes, who did not respond to requests for comment, moved from the state House to the state Senate last year, after opting not to run for Congress. In making that decision, he cited family concerns that included a teenage son.

“I don’t want to be away from my family five days a week,” he said at the time.

Among other candidates who would be high on the party’s list, former state Attorney General Jim Petro has already said he will run for the state Supreme Court instead.

Another factor to watch in 2010 will be third-party candidates, who took 9 percent of the vote last year and helped deliver the race to Kilroy.

One was a libertarian, while the other was an anti-abortion-rights independent. Republicans are well-aware that the same thing could happen in 2010, in large part thanks to Stivers’s support for abortion rights.

But whoever else gets in, national Republicans are prepared to fight again with Stivers, whom they continue to hail as one of their top recruits.

“Mary Jo Kilroy and the DCCC will have a big problem on their hands should Steve Stivers decide to get in this race,” said a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), Paul Lindsay.

Gabby Adler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said Republican leaders are making Stivers “their pet project.”

“They simply don’t understand that Central Ohio voters have already rejected Steve Stivers once and continue to have no interest in supporting a bank lobbyist whose priority is fighting for Washington special interests above the needs of hardworking Ohio families,” Adler said.