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Politics
Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: How will Phil Heimlich's anti-Trump message play in a very Trump-ish district?

phil heimlich
Courtesy of Phil Heimlich
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You have to give Phil Heimlich his props.

There are more Republican politicians out there than you might think who despise Donald Trump and all the lies he tells and vitriol he spews.

But they do it off the record and on deep background, because they are scared to death of Trump and his propensity for throwing hand-picked primary election opponents at anyone who even utters a single word against him.

But Heimlich, the former Cincinnati council member and Hamilton County commissioner, is not timid at all. He has been speaking out loudly against Trump and the Trump takeover of his political party since the 2020 presidential campaign.

He did it during the 2020 campaign as one of the principal spokespersons for Operation Grant, the Ohio offshoot of The Lincoln Project, an organization made up of anti-Trump Republicans.

And he does it today as a Republican who says he has filed petitions to run against Ohio's 8th District congressman, Trump loyalist Warren Davidson of Troy, in the May 3 Republican primary election.

"Warren Davidson is someone who would not vote to certify the results of the presidential election after rioters stormed the Capitol; he sided with the insurrectionists; he is part of the 'sedition caucus,' " Heimlich said. "The people of his district need someone who is willing to stand up to Trump."

warren davidson
AP
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Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, speaks as the House debates the objection to confirm the Electoral College vote from Pennsylvania, at the U.S. Capitol early Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.

The problem is, at this point, we really don't know who the people of the 8th District will be.

The congressional district map submitted last week by the Republican majority on the Ohio Redistricting Commission is being challenged by voting rights groups before the Ohio Supreme Court.

A bipartisan majority of the court rejected the Republicans earlier map because they said it did not accurately reflect the statewide voting preferences of Ohioans, which is 54% Republican and 46% Democratic.

This new map may meet the same fate. In the latest version, most of western and north central Hamilton County are in Davidson's district, which would run up the western border of Ohio to take in Butler, Preble and Darke counties. Then, in a nice little bit of gerrymandering, it juts out to take in part of Miami County, including Davidson's home address.

But it does not include Symmes Township, way up in the northeast corner of Hamilton County. That's where Heimlich lives.

It seems highly unlikely that Symmes Township will end up in Davidson's district. But Heimlich doesn't care if his Symmes Township home is in the district or not.

"If somebody wants to make a big deal about my not living in the district, fine, let them," he said. "Republican voters in Warren Davidson's district deserve to have a choice."

And Heimlich is correct in saying that there is no requirement that a member of the U.S. House live in the district he or she represents, only that the member lives in the same state. And Symmes Township is definitely an Ohio address.

Still, it begs the question — why not run against 1st District Republican congressman Steve Chabot, a Trump supporter? Or even 2nd District congressman Brad Wenstrup, who is drawn out of Hamilton County in this map but could conceivably be drawn back in before this hubbub is over?

"Brad Wenstrup didn't vote to overturn the election and he is not an anti-vaxxer," Heimlich said.

Chabot, Heimlich said, may be a Trump guy but he has an opponent in Democrat Greg Landsman who will carry the anti-Trump message in the 1st District.

"I'm not interested in party labels. I'm interested in getting rid of the Trump lap dogs," Heimlich said. "If that's a Democrat, fine. If it is a Republican like me, that's fine too."

One of the reasons he chose to challenge Davidson in a GOP primary is that a Democratic candidate's chances of winning in what will be, one way or another, a heavily Republican district are remote indeed.

Davidson's campaign staff could not be reached for comment on the primary challenge.

Davidson, a former Army Ranger, won a chaotic 15-candidate GOP primary in 2016 after West Chester's John Boehner resigned the speakership and left Congress. He won in that year's general election with 69% of the vote.

Since then, his opponent has been Vanessa Enoch of West Chester, who earned a doctorate degree in public policy and social change from Union Institute and University and is a business consultant. She would probably make a great candidate in an area where Democrats had an advantage, but, in two elections against Davidson, Enoch has received only 31% and 33% of the vote.

Enoch has filed to run against Davidson for a third time this year.

Heimlich is dubious about any Democrat's chances in that part of the world.

"John F. Kennedy himself could come back from the dead and couldn't win an election in that district," Heimlich said.

But even as a Republican, Heimlich is going to have a very steep hill to climb running against an entrenched incumbent in a heavily Republican district.

According to opensecrets.org, Davidson has raised over $1.4 million since 2019 and has $574,539 in his campaign account for 2022.

Fundraising, though, is something Heimlich has proven himself to be pretty good at over his years in politics.

Back in his city council days, from 1993 through 2001, he and fellow Republican Charlie Winburn used to try to outdo each other in setting records for Cincinnati City Council fundraising.

Heimlich won't talk specifics on what kind of campaign he will run to win over 8th District voters from a candidate they have supported in the last three election cycles.

"I will have the resources to reach the voters I need to reach — the voters who have their doubts about Trump," Heimlich said. "I do know something about raising money."

One thing is certain — win or lose, Phil Heimlich will not stop hammering fellow Republicans. Not as long as they bow down to Donald Trump as the ruler of the Republican Party.