Ohio’s ninth district residents aren’t unhappy with their Democratic representative, Marcy Kaptur. There are 10% more Democratic voters than Republican voters in the district, and Kaptur has held the seat for 14 consecutive terms. But this election cycle is different, and Republican challenger Rich Iott thinks he has a fighting chance.
“What the Rich Iott campaign has done is start to give people who would otherwise support Marcy – but don’t like what they’ve seen out of her, or out of Washington – the belief that she can be defeated,” said Fritz Wenzel, a chief adviser to the Iott campaign. “The intensity on the Republican side is so much greater than on the Democratic side.”
In other words, even Iott knows it’s a long-shot, but because of the recent political climate, he’s feeling good. Kaptur’s last-minute flip-flopping on the Obamacare vote added an element of vulnerability to her candidacy; she was member of the Stupak voting bloc, and northern Ohio’s strongly pro-life sentiments haven’t taken kindly to that. Then, there’s the anti-Democrat, anti-Washington mood permeating through the country. Kaptur has been in office for what seems like forever, and Iott is a political newbie.
Wenzel points to two other indicators that might show some weakness in Kaptur’s re-election prospects: her relatively poor primary showing and the number of people who explicitly say they want her re-elected. Kaptur captured 80% of the Democratic primary votes in her district against another Democratic candidate who has absolutely no name identification. That’s quite low for an incumbent who won 74% of the overall vote last year. Second, polling shows that more than 50% of Ohio voters have a favorable opinion of Kaptur, but far fewer actually think she deserves to be re-elected.
Just as important is the nature of Kaptur’s opposition. No Republican has mounted a serious campaign against her in more then 20 years, and Iott has put more than $300,000 of his own money into his campaign already. The ninth district – part of the so-called “rust belt” – is suffering, having never recovered from the tech bust in the early 2000s and then getting whacked again by the housing bust of 2008. Kaptur hasn’t offered voters anything different in her many terms in office, and it’s possible they might be ready for a change.
But Kaptur has played her cards right. With the retirement of David Obey of Wisconsin, she has a shot at chairing a subcommittee on the Agriculture, Defense and Transportation Committee. Two other members of that committee have also left room for Kaptur to ascend – Democrat Alan Mollohan of West Virginia lost his primary election and Democrat John Murtha died. Kaptur is also a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee for Agriculture, serving an industry that is strong in her district.
The Congresswoman also put on a grand publicity show during the Goldman Sachs hearings, a focus of this year’s election cycle. During the height of the controversy, Kaptur showed up at the Justice Department with a letter signed by 62 members of Congress, demanding clarity about the investigations of major financial institutions and insisting that the perpetrators be sent to jail. She might have knocked her authority down a few notches when she mixed up Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasurey Secretary Hank Paulson during a congressional hearing, but she still came out swinging.
Where she really might be vulnerable is if voters come to terms with the fact that Kaptur’s Democratic policies haven’t bettered their lives during her many terms in office, and that Republican Rich Iott might offer an appealing alternative. Iott is the former CEO of Food Town, a grocery chain in the northwest United States, and has been a part of numerous other start-up business in the Toledo area. He’s also a military reservist. Iott’s primary focus during the campaign, and during his potential term in office, will be jobs and the economy, said Wenzel.
“Voters are really unhappy with where the country’s going,” he said. “Nothing that’s going on in Washington these days gives them any encouragement that Congress is going to make it any better.”