For those trying to learn election lessons, perhaps as good a place as any to start is in the state that received the most attention two years ago: Ohio. Democrats and liberal outside groups poured money into five targeted races in the Buckeye State, yet Republicans hung onto win four, the only failure the result of picking a scandal-tainted replacement for Abramoff-linked Rep. Bob Ney.
Not only did the four winning incumbents in Ohio survive a bad climate for the GOP nationwide, but also a downright nasty one in their home state, where the outgoing Republican governor has an approval rating in the teens. And while President Bush had carried each of the five contested districts in 2004, this year one-fifth of Bush voters backed Democratic Senator-elect Sherrod Brown.
Unlike many who lost seats in other states, these Ohio-based members believed they were fighting for their political lives. More important, rather than shying away from their largely conservative records, they localized contests.
Most impressive of the Ohio contests was Rep. Steve Chabot in the First District, which is comprised of roughly two-thirds of Cincinnati, and capped off with suburban areas. It is by no means safely Republican, as Bush won just 51% here in both 2000 and 2004. The race didn’t just look good for Democrats on paper, either. Challenger John Cranley is Catholic, pro-life, and in 2005, he was the top vote-getter of 31 candidates seeking 9 at-large slots on the Cincinnati city council.
Given a strong challenger in such a great environment for Democrats, it’s no wonder that Chabot was considered one of the 10 most vulnerable members of Congress. A class of ‘94 member, Chabot has had three real re-election challenges, and he didn’t receive even 55% in any of them. Democrats believed that their best shot in picking off an Ohio incumbent would be by winning over moderates and independents against Chabot, whom National Journal this year named the second-most conservative member of Congress.
Rather than hide his conservative credentials, Chabot embraced them as being what was best for the local community. He figured—correctly, it seems—that consistency on issues demonstrates character and engenders respect. Not much else could explain how he has survived voting against most earmarks, including tens of millions of dollars targeted for his district.
Despite being outspent when all outside expenditures are counted, Chabot won with a surprisingly sturdy 53%.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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