YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO— Republican Bill Johnson has an uphill battle in the Buckeye State. But if he can pull it off, Republicans everywhere can rest easy on Election Day.
You might know Johnson as the Republican running against Democratic Rep. Charlie Wilson, who was the target of a pretty excruciating divorce scandal just two weeks ago. Think “beatings, slappings, and kicking,” according to official records that were leaked to the press.
But that doesn't matter.
"We have refused, and I will continue to refuse to make Mr. Wilson's personal life an issue," said Johnson this past weekend. "[Wilson's] voting record for TARP, the stimulus, health care, voting to adjourn the Congress without addressing the extension of the Bush tax cuts — not supporting and not opposing the cap-and-trade legislation that would decimate this district — those are enough reasons to get him voted out of office. We don't need a scandal."
In other words, skeletons don't matter, because every conceivable legislative pitfall is stuck on Wilson's back like a bulls-eye. The target is being shot with a 50-caliber machine gun by Johnson, a 27-year Air Force veteran, which is made even easier by the fact that Wilson is running away from his record, like so many other vulnerable Democrats this cycle.
"Mr. Wilson, has sort of put the nail in his own coffin," said Johnson. "People in this district see him as absent. He will not meet with them — he would not even debate me."
That's not to say Johnson's getting off scott-free. Far from it. Johnson had virtually no name-ID at the start of his campaign, and according to some reports is seen as a carpet-bagger. The sixth district elected Wilson with 62 percent of the vote last term, and Democrats won the two districts surrounding it for the past two cycles. Those Democrats benefited from a Democrat at the top of the ticket in Gov. Ted Strickland, back when a "Blue Dog" actually meant something.
Now, the phrase "Blue Dog" has about as much potency as the four-legged star of a children's television series. A few media buys have helped boost Johnsons name-ID, and Strickland is trailing former Rep. John Kasich, albeit by a small margin. The districts around Wilson's are falling with the tides; Jim Renacci is mounting a formidable challenge to Rep. John Boccieri (D) in the 16th, and Rep. Zack Space (D) could just as easily fall to state senator Bob Gibbs in the 18th.
"Regardless of my race, I felt like I would be one of the most shocked people around if all of the Republicans in my state did not win," said Johnson. "We've got some exceptionally strong candidates from the top to the bottom. I'll be shocked if they don't win."
Democrats have only recently took notice, buying air time in the district for the first time this cycle just two weeks ago. President Bill Clinton and House Minority Leader John Boehner also joined the party, with rallies in or around the 6th district within the last week. Their efforts for Johnson, Boccieri, and Space underscore the importance of Ohio as a bellwether for the presidential race just two short years from now.
Wilson's attitude underscores the independent, back-to-basics attitude that promises to yield big results for the GOP on a national level this Tuesday.
"I'm a Christian, I'm a family man, I have strong family values and moral convictions, I'm pro-life, I'm pro-second Amendment, I'm pro-America, I believe in the Constitution, I believe that we need to get back to some of those founding principles, I believe in less government, less taxes, and less government intrusion," said Johnson. "I believe that this country was founded upon a set of principles where the freedom the individual, and the individual's ability, allowed that individual to pursue their own dreams. That's what fuels the American way."