Try as he might to distance himself, the die may already be cast. Polls show Chabot, age 57, ahead by double digits. The latest poll, which was conducted by SurveyUSA for the Cincinnati Enquirer, shows Chabot up by twelve points, with independents breaking toward Republicans. Pro-life voters, in this mostly pro-life district, support Republicans by a four-to-one margin.
Sensing an impending loss, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pulled more than $500,000 in planned TV advertising for Driehaus in mid-October. After walking the plank on Obamacare, Driehaus was shocked to see his party desert him. “I’ve had the guts to stand up for you,” he pleaded in a fundraising video to supporters. “I’ve taken those tough votes because it was the right thing to do for the American people. Now the DCCC is walking away.”
More like running away. Driehaus’s inability to persuade his constituents of Obamacare’s great promise and supposed pro-life bona fides appears to have doomed his chances. In this swing district in one of the country’s bellwether states, making the case for Obamacare has been a challenge — especially as statewide unemployment hovers at 10 percent, which is above the national average.
“I think they envisioned the health-care bill as being something that the public would find favorable after it passed,” Chabot says. “If anything, the public has soured more. We’re reminding people which side he took, if they even need reminding.”
As Driehaus has tried mightily to defend his vote, outside groups like the Susan B. Anthony List — a pro-life political-action committee – have hounded him. Last month, the SBA List attempted to erect billboards in the district “shaming” Driehaus for “voting for taxpayer-funded abortion.” Driehaus, irate at the SBA List’s politicking, promptly filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission, claiming that the ad was false.
The SBA List punched back, suing to stop the commission from deciding on its ad’s content. An Ohio judge allowed the Driehaus complaint to move forward, but, as Politico notes, “in a rare moment of harmony, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief in support of SBA List, saying the group had a right to criticize public officials.”
Chabot argues that Driehaus’s complaining about campaign ads has done little to shake up the race. “The environment is so different this time,” he tells me. “Democrats, in the administration and especially in Congress, have messed things up so badly that our country really needs a change from the hope-and-change.” The usual campaign jousts, Chabot says, have taken a back seat to the biggest issue of all: jobs.
That’s good news for Chabot, who despite his Beltway résumé has run a low-key campaign focused on the economy and on boosting small businesses in southwestern Ohio. The health-care vote, Chabot says, has driven many business owners to the GOP side. “They see it as a blanket over the economy,” he explains. “Over and over, I hear that people aren’t hiring because they know they’ll soon be staring down Obamacare.”
In this Tea Party year, Chabot has also made sure to tell voters that he will not be a rubberstamp Republican. “I buck my party when I think it’s appropriate,” he says, noting his votes against the bank bailouts, the auto bailouts, and President Bush’s Medicare prescription-drug plan.
“I was elected in the revolution of 1994 with Newt Gingrich,” Chabot says. “For a while, we did things right: We balanced the budget, cut taxes, and enacted welfare reform. Then things changed a bit. We may get a second chance on Tuesday, but we won’t get a third chance. This time, if we’re lucky enough to win again, we need to stay true to our conservative values, both fiscally and socially.”
It looks like Chabot may get another go-round. Like the DCCC, the White House, too, appears to have given up on Ohio’s 1st district. Obama has been to the Buckeye State twelve times as president — including a stop in Cleveland yesterday, on his last campaign swing this cycle, and a trip to Columbus in late October — but he has not been to Cincinnati to stump for Driehaus. Vice President Biden has stopped by, but the president has avoided Driehaus — in contrast with, for example, Rep. Tom Perriello, a freshman from Virginia, for whom Obama campaigned last Friday.
Driehaus notices. “I am not going to lose sleep over the president being here or not being here,” he said in an interview last week with the New York Times. “I think it’s a mistake for him to ignore Cincinnati. Cincinnati was here for him in 2008, but we are going to win with him or without him.”
Probably not, Chabot says. “Last time, with the Obama enthusiasm in the more urban areas and the more liberal parts of the district, Driehaus benefited from a 30 percent increase in Democratic turnout compared with the vote in 2004,” he recalls. “There were a lot of first-time voters.” The district, which went for Bush in 2004, was won easily by Obama, who beat McCain by eleven points, 55 percent to 44 percent. “We just couldn’t overcome it,” Chabot says. “It was an Obama tsunami.”
The tides have since shifted. Driehaus, who campaigned in 2008 as a “raging moderate,” now floats alone, a Stupak buoy adrift.
— Robert Costa is a political reporter for National Review.