Jillian Bandes

Republicans in Ohio’s 16th Congressional district are suffering through a blistering primary that will end in two short weeks. After that, it’s open season on incumbant Democrat Rep. John Boccieri, who is in hot water over his votes on health care and cap-and-trade.

Ohio’s Republican-leaning 16th district sits in the northeast corner of this bellweather state, and went 50-48% for McCain in 2008. Boccieri won by a substantial margin after the retirement of popular Republican Rep. Ralph Regula, the second-longest-serving Republican member of the U.S. House. Boccieri spent $1.4 million on his 2008 campaign compared to his competitors’ 1.1 million. Boccieri was also from a more populated region of the district than was his competitor in 2008.

He won’t have all those factors helping him this time around. One GOP primary candidate in the 2010 cycle is businessman Jim Renacci, who has roots in Wadsworth, near Canton. His fundraising numbers have been impressive, and he has a 27 year history of creating jobs there. Another contender, Matt Miller, has a track record in Republican government affairs just an hour away and has been working the precincts for months. Paul Schiffer, a local radio host, is trying to run as the tea party candidate after a failed bid for the House in 2008.

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Whoever comes out on top is going take some big swings at Boccieri, who originally voted against health care but then switched his vote after Obama visited his Ohio district and talked about the famous Ohioan Ms. Canfield, who was struck with leukemia after surviving cancer.

Boccieri joined with fellow Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich in switching his vote, even though Boccieri did so for very different reasons. Kucinich said the bill wasn’t progressive enough. Boccieri said the bill would save money, and that he thought it would help people like Canfield, and that his mother would be proud of him for voting for the bill.

“I want my mom to know I am standing up today and doing what I believe in,” said Boccieri, in a press conference at the time.

Then the backlash began; Boccieri reported death threats against him and his family, and said he did not feel physically safe at the Capitol. He’s going not going to feel very politically safe when the Republican challenger gets a hold of him.

“Boccieri doesn’t represent the district,” said Renacci. “He votes 94% of the time with Pelosi… including cap and trade, health care, and a number of other issues.”

On cap-and-trade, Boccieri was again a flipper. First, he said the bill would kill Ohio jobs. Then, he said the bill would create jobs. His eventual “yes” vote on cap-and-trade encouraged Ohioans to rally against him, and that was before health care. Ohio ranks in the top three most-active tea party states; Miller, Renacci and Shiffer all say that they have a natural anti-incumbant advantage.

“When I am out and about, I continually have people tell me that they have been Democrats for 30, 40 years and say that they will not vote for a Democrat when their leaders pushed through a bill that they didn’t want,” said Miller.

Bocierri had raised an impressive $1 million from his last campaign and and still had more than $900,000 on hand to combat his eventual Republican foe. Renacci is the only Republican who has raised anything near that, pulling in $650,000, including $120,000 of his own money. But that’s far from a guaranteed success in a state where grassroots activism is becoming as regular as Sunday church.


Jillian Bandes

Jillian Bandes is the National Political Reporter for Townhall.com