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Commentary: The Gift Is In The Mail For SW Ohio's Democratic Congressional Challengers

post office truck
Morry Gash

You'd have to have your MAGA hat screwed on too tight to believe that Donald Trump, by appointing Louis DeJoy, a political crony who has told a congressional committee that "I know very little about postage stamps," didn't start out with the intent of wrecking the U.S. Postal Service for political purposes.

Over a third of all votes cast in the Nov. 3 presidential election are likely to be by mail – a big jump from the 24% in 2016 – and that caused Trump to assume that meant bad news for him at the polls if all of those ballots were counted.

So the wrecking crew of Trump and DeJoy got busy taking mail sorting machines out of action; drastically reducing the number of familiar bright blue mail boxes on the streets in heavily Democratic cities; cutting postal service overtime; and other moves which had the potential of crippling the Postal Service's ability to deliver absentee ballots to state election officials in a timely fashion.

And if they don't arrive in a timely fashion, they don't get counted.

When Democratic state attorneys general and local prosecutors began rattling off the number of state and federal laws they believed were being broken, DeJoy changed his tune. Even Dave Yost, Ohio's attorney general and a Republican, fired off a letter to Trump asking him to kindly knock it off.

Well, at that point DeJoy suddenly had an epiphany, a Road to Damascus moment, and announced that "reforms" to the postal service would not be implemented until after the election.

That didn't stop House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from calling the House back to Washington to vote on a $25 billion package aimed at helping the Postal Service get ballots to election boards in the middle of a pandemic.

It passed the House last week by a vote of 257 to 150, with 26 Republicans jumping ship and voting with Pelosi.

But, for those GOP House incumbents who voted no, it did give their Democratic opponents yet another issue to run on.

Southwest Ohio was a pretty good example of that.

In Ohio's 1st Congressional District, where longtime GOP incumbent Steve Chabot voted no, his Democratic challenger, Kate Schroder, was all over Chabot in a New York minute.

"A fully operating and fully funded United States Postal Service is essential to our democracy, to our economy and to health,'' the Clifton Democrat said. "Steve Chabot's vote over the weekend just shows how out of touch he is with the needs of his constituents."

Schroder, a health care professional making her first run for public office, is, to the amazement of some, running in a dead heat race with Chabot, who has held office for 24 years.

With about 10 weeks to go, the race appears to be a toss-up.

Chabot didn't waste anytime defending his vote and answering Schroder. His congressional office put out a statement saying that "our primary focus must be ensuring that every vote validly cast, whether in person or by mail, is counted accurately and in a timely fashion."

Earlier this year, Chabot said, Congress passed the CARES act for pandemic relief and that it included $10 billion to the Postal Service to prepare for a record number of mail-in votes.

"If additional funds are necessary, I'm open to listening to the Postal Service's specific needs,'' Chabot said.

Pelosi's legislation, Chabot said, was "fiscally irresponsible" and won't pass the Senate. It included far more money than the Postal Service could spend between now and November, Chabot said.

The Chabot/Schroder contest is getting most of the national attention, but Republican incumbent Brad Wenstrup of the 2nd Congressional District has an opponent in businesswoman and teacher Jaime Castle who, while she may be a decided underdog, is, at the very least, going to make sure Wenstrup knows he has a fight ahead of him.

After his "no" vote, Wenstrup put out a written statement pointing out that "right now, the USPS has $14 billion cash-on-hand."

"The Post Office has stated that it has enough funding to remain fully operational until Aug. 21 of next year,'' Wenstrup said. "Nevertheless, Speaker Pelosi manufactured a crisis and rushed the House back to vote on an irresponsible and unneeded amount of money on a problem that does not currently exist."

Castle, a mother of two from Mount Washington, told WVXU that Wenstrup should not be patting himself on the back for that vote.

"Should we be doing anything we can do to ensure that we have a fair election?" Castle said. "Of course we should. And that means giving the Postal Service all the means it needs to get this job done.

"Brad Wenstrup is good at painting himself a hero, yet time and time again he votes against the interests of his constituents," Castle said.

Yes, Pelosi's bill is going nowhere. But what it does do is keep alive a fierce debate that will not only be at the heart of the presidential race, but down-ticket into congressional races as well.

After all, you can't spend the taxpayers' dollars without the consent of Congress.

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.