There are still about 19 months before anyone in the U.S. has to vote in the mid-term Congressional elections of 2018 – a fact that would make one think that things are rather quiet on that front these days.
Except they aren't quiet.
In fact, there is a small crowd of potential Democrats gathering (and organizing) to take on three-term incumbent Republican Brad Wenstrup in Ohio's Second Congressional District next year.
Does this seem odd to you? In this heavily Republican district, one that stretches from eastern Hamilton County east to Pike and Scioto counties?
It just might seem odd. But, as we have learned in politics over the past year, many of the old rules are out the window.
Here's a district that Wenstrup won in 2016 with 65 percent of the vote. His Democratic opponent, a Pike County truck driver named William R. "Butch" Smith – who did not do a lick of campaigning throughout the entire election, came away with nearly 33 percent of the vote.
Democratic party leaders are rather relieved that it seems Smith is not going to run this year. He's won primaries before without campaigning for a somewhat silly reason that his name was "Smith." Believe it or not, sometimes folks aren't paying very close attention to what's going on in their local elections.
Smith's lack of effort frustrated Democratic party leaders to the point where they backed a write-in candidate, retired physician Janet Everhard of New Richmond, as their endorsed candidate, even though Smith won the primary.
Strange, but true.
Running a write-in campaign against candidates whose names are actually on the ballot is really, really hard and Everhard ended up with only 2.2 percent of the vote.
But the New Richmond Democrat is back running again – this time on the ballot.
She will not be alone. There apparently will be a primary. Two other Democrats, lawyer Richard L. Crosby of Clermont County's Union Township and Mickey Edwards, a Mt. Adams resident who teaches at the University of Cincinnati, where he is pursuing a doctorate in transportation planning. Both have campaign websites up; and both are actively campaigning, as is Everhard.
On March 3, the Brown County Democratic Party tweeted out the news that Ken McNeely, the county party's central committee chairman and an unsuccessful candidate for state representative last year, plans to run for the Second District seat.
But there's not much evidence of a campaign on McNeely's part at this point.
So let's concentrate for the moment on the three who are actively campaigning:
Richard L. Crosby
This might seem to be an odd way to begin a campaign for a Democratic congressional nomination, but it turns out that Crosby, a lawyer in private practice in Cincinnati, voted in the Republican presidential primary last March.
So, officially, he is carried on the Clermont County voter rolls as a Republican.
What's that, you say, how can a person who voted as a Republican in a primary a year ago be running now as a Democrat?
Because Ohio election law says he can.
In Dec. 2015, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted issued a directive based on the Ohio Revised Code saying that "a person may be a candidate for nomination of any political party at a primary election (regardless of party affiliation established by voting in a prior partisan primary) if either of the following applies: 1. The person does not hold an elective office, or (2) the person holds an elective office other than one for which candidates are nominated at a primary election."
So there. That settles that.
It begs the question, though, why, if you are a Democrat, would you vote in a Republican primary.
"I voted strategically,'' Crosby told WVXU. "I did it to try to keep Donald Trump off the ballot."
He said he voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in Ohio's GOP primary in hopes that a Kasich win in Ohio would give Kasich momentum and stop Trump's race to the GOP nomination.
"I know a lot of Democrats who did that, just to try to stop Trump,'' Crosby said. "But the fact is, I am a Democrat and I always will be."
Crosby, who lives with his wife and two young children just across the Hamilton-Clermont county line, grew up in Columbus, where his father was a commander in the Columbus police department.
"I grew up in a family where public service meant something,'' Crosby said. "In our family, if you felt the call to serve, then that is what you would have to do."
He is running, he said, because he believes Wenstrup is "out of touch" with the people of the district, holding carefully controlled "tele-town hall" conferences instead of real meetings with his constituents.
"I am going to campaign in every corner of this district,'' Crosby said. "You will see me going to Republican events as well as Democratic events. Because if I am elected, I am going to serve everyone in this district."
For a first time candidate, Edwards, who lives in Mount Adams with his wife and one-year-old son, has a long resume.
Edwards comes from a union household; his mother was the first female president of the National Association of Letter Carriers union local in Fort Wayne, Ind.
"It was from her that I learned you had to stand up for things you believe in,'' Edwards told WVXU.
He worked as a photojournalist for a while; and earned an engineering degree from Purdue University, after which he went to work at Procter & Gamble in research and development.
Then, it was on to Cornell University where he earned a master's degree in public policy. That led him to a period where he worked for U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana), where he worked on Highway Trust Fund and infrastructure issues.
Now, as he works on his doctorate in transportation planning at the DAAP School of Planning at the University of Cincinnati, he is a classroom teacher, teaching transportation-related topics.
Ohio's sprawling Second District, Edwards said is about one-third urban, one third suburban and one-third rural.
"It mirrors how I have spent my life,'' Edwards said. "I've spent about a third of my life in urban areas, a third in suburbs, and a third on a farm."
He's hired a campaign consultant, but he has yet to raise or spend $5,000 – the threshold that would require him to file campaign committee papers with the Federal Elections Commission.
"But we will be doing that,'' Edwards said. "I'm serious about this race."
Everhard may have only gotten 2.2 percent of the vote as a write-in candidate in 2016, but she worked for every one of them.
"I was at every event; I was in every town and village of the district, trying to spread my message – that the people of the Second District deserved better than Brad Wenstrup as their representative in Congress,'' Everhard.
A self-described "passionate supporter of progressive causes and taxpayer value," Everhard was a gynecologic physician and surgeon, who, according to her campaign biography, had to retire prematurely because of "bilateral hand dysfunction."
She said she plans to formally announce her candidacy just before a "March for Science" event at Fountain Square on April 22 – Earth Day.
"It seems like an appropriate time and day, even though Fountain Square isn't in the Second District – but only by a few blocks,'' Everhard said.
This time, of course, she plans to be on the ballot and not racing around trying to convince people to write in her name – an almost impossible task.
She said she has a major advantage over her opponents, Crosby and Edwards.
"They don't have a record in this district,'' Everhard said. "I have been working for progressive causes in this area for a long time."
Wenstrup, she argues, has not been responsive to the people of the district.
"People – all people – in the Second District deserve representation,'' Everhard said. "Not just those who agree with his very conservative views."
So what does the Wenstrup camp think of all this activity on the Democratic side, taking place so early in the game?
Mark Weaver, a Republican campaign consultant who has worked on all of Wenstrup's congressional campaigns, told WVXU it is a symptom of the fact that Democrats thought they were going to win the White House last year and failed.
"I think since the Democratic presidential defeat, there are a whole lot of Democrats unhappy about being shut out of power and they are starting to organize early,'' Weaver said.
In 2018, Weaver said, "you are going to see very few uncontested races."
Wenstrup, Weaver said, can let his record speak for itself.
"He's busy doing his job, especially with his work on the House Intelligence Committee, which is more important now than ever,'' Weaver said.
"And look at this district – it's very Republican,'' Weaver said. "It's going to be tough to beat him."
Last year, Wenstrup outperformed Trump in the Second District by nine percentage points.
"There is energy among Democrats at the far left, the ones who hate Donald Trump with the heat of a thousand suns,'' Weaver said.
The energy level is not quite so high among more moderate Democrats - the kind of Democrats who populate parts of the Second District, Weaver said.
"These folks are welcome to run, although I don't think most of them could find Pike County on a map; and, if they did, they'd lock their car doors when they got there,"
In other words, the Wenstrup camp doesn't seem to be too worried about it.
Nonetheless, the crowd of Democrats wanting a piece of Brad Wenstrup is starting to form.