When Barack Obama swept Ohio just a short two years ago, he brought with him a new crop of fresh-faced, allegedly reformist Democrats with an independent streak and a penchant for taking on the powers that be. Democrats openly celebrated, speculating as to whether Ohio might become another Illinois, while Gov. Ted Strickland, then one of the most popular governors in the country, looked nigh unbeatable in 2010. And with the announcement of the retirement of moderate Republican senator George Voinovich, liberals gleefully wondered if Ohio was poised only to get worse for the GOP.
It wasn’t. Flash forward to now, and not only is the once-popular Strickland locked in the electoral fight of his life, but Voinovich’s seat has been virtually locked up by former congressman Rob Portman, who now regularly posts leads of over 20 points against the aimless and saccharine Lee Fisher. But perhaps the most dramatic shift will come in Ohio’s House elections, where fully a third of the 18-seat Ohio delegation is either likely to flip, genuinely impossible to call, or vulnerable despite a persistent Democratic leaning, according to the model developed by Nate Silver. To make matters worse for the Democrats, two candidates who in any other year would be seen as untouchable — Marcy Kaptur in the 9th district and Dennis Kucinich in the 10th – have been spotted by national commentators as outside chances for a pickup. At best, Democrats will lose only two seats; at worst, they could lose as many as six, seven, or even eight.
The two races where Democrats can be said to have not only lost, but already surrendered, are Ohio’s 15th district, currently held by freshman Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy, and its 1st district, currently held by freshman Democrat Steve Driehaus. In both races, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) has either refused to spend money at all or spent only a pittance, with Hotline On Call reporting
that Kilroy received absolutely no money from the DCCC, according to this Tuesday’s FEC filings, whereas Driehaus received the scant amount of $30,000.
It’s not difficult to see why these two Democrats should be the first to drop. Kilroy, whose left-wing past associations and insincere disavowals thereof never made her a particularly good fit for her purple district, is now locked in a tight race against her 2008 opponent, the moderately conservative Steve Stivers. With no party support behind her, Kilroy has tried squeezing support from her allies in the unions by running a deeply loyalist, class-warfare-oriented campaign that can only be described as being motivated by the fear that someone, somewhere, might be making more than the minimum wage. Having no record of party apostasy at all, even at points where it would be demanded of an intellectually consistent representative, all Kilroy has to run on is how icky Steve Stivers’s previous career as a lobbyist is. Polls show that it’s not convincing her constituency, as the most recent poll in the district gives Stivers a nine-point lead.
Driehaus, on the other hand, has tried to distance himself from his party — rhetorically, if not in substance. Unfortunately, his record belies this strategy, a fact with which Driehaus has not always coped gracefully. After the Susan B. Anthony List put up billboards and did a bus tour correctly pointing out that Driehaus had voted for a health-care bill that included public funding for abortions, Driehaus first channeled Nancy Pelosi by accusing the SBA List of spreading “a campaign of fear and misinformation” and then suing to get the billboards taken down, an attempt at muzzling inconvenient political speech so blatant that even the left-leaning ACLU has come out against it. None of Driehaus’s tactics have done anything to stop the bleeding, as most polls show him losing to his predecessor, Steve Chabot, by double digits.