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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: Ohio-1 is 'one of few opportunities for Democrats to flip this year.' Here's why

steve chabot and greg landsman standing at podiums
Chabot, House Television via AP
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Landsman, Jason Whitman for WVXU

Steve Chabot, the 69-year-old Republican congressman from Westwood, is a warhorse.

He has held Ohio's 1st Congressional District seat for all but two of the past 30 years, surviving one electoral battle after another, regardless of what the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) throws at him.

But sooner or later, political warhorses are put to pasture. Some go willingly; others go down fighting.

Could this be Chabot's year to be retired by voters?

Greg Landsman, Cincinnati City Council member and the Democratic nominee for Chabot's seat, thinks so. So too, does the DCCC, which has put Ohio-1 on it's "Red to Blue" list of congressional districts they believe they can flip in 2022.

And there is good reason for respected political newsletters like the Cook Political Report and Sabato's Crystal Ball to have the Chabot-Landsman contest listed in the toss-up category, in a year when there will be a fierce battle for control of the House and every seat will count.

This plot of land in eastern Hamilton County and Warren County could have a lot to say about whether Nancy Pelosi remains speaker or Kevin McCarthy ends up taking her place in a GOP-controlled House.

nancy pelosi kevin mccarthy
Andrew Harnik
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AP
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. accompanied by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., right, speaks before signing the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act after it passed in the House on Capitol Hill, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Washington.

"This is one of relatively few opportunities for Democrats to flip a Republican seat this year,'' said Kyle Kondik, an Ohio native who is managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia. "The stakes are very high."

So, what makes Ohio-1 so special?

It boils down to one fact: It is not the same Ohio-1 Chabot ran in two years ago, cruising by Democrat Kate Schroder by 7 percentage points.

The congressional district map used in the May 3 primary election — in which both Landsman and Chabot ran unopposed — bears little resemblance to the 2020 map, drawn by statehouse Republicans in 2011 with making Chabot's life easier in mind.

Oh, it still has that enormous Republican elephant known as Warren County sitting atop blue Hamilton County. For Chabot, adding Warren County to his district in 2011 was the gift that kept on giving, a re-election insurance policy that has pulled his fat out of the fire over and over again.

Guess what? Thanks again to the statehouse Republicans, it's still there, still Republican red to the bone.

But now, in the map that is likely to be used again in the November election, there is a new element; and it can't make Chabot a happy fellow.

This time, he will have the entire city of Cincinnati within the confines of Ohio-1, a factor Chabot has not had to deal with before.

Most of the Chabot-friendly Western Hills area of Hamilton County has been grafted on to the Ohio-8 district of Republican Warren Davidson, who lives about 75 miles to the north in Troy, Ohio.

Cincinnati is a deeply blue city; and the portions of it that have been in Chabot's district in the past have not been friendly to the conservative Republican incumbent.

In fact, the majority of Cincinnati city voters are downright hostile to Chabot.

Bottom line is this: Ohio-1 has gone from a district where, in 2016, Donald Trump won by 3 percentage points to a district which, in 2020, gave Joe Biden an 8.5 percentage point advantage.

That's a big gap for a Trump loyalist like Chabot to fill, even with Warren County's help.

"There's no question this is going to be a competitive race," said Jon Conradi, the Washington-based consultant to Chabot's campaign. "But you have to remember — Steve has out-performed Trump in the district in 2016 and 2020. That's very significant."

But outperforming a candidate like Trump who won the old district by 3 percentage points is one thing. Outperforming a Democratic presidential candidate like Biden, who won by 8.5 percentage points is quite another.

That may prove to be a bridge too far, even for an old political warhorse like Chabot.

No matter who wins in the end, it is going to be a brutal campaign, with each side firing pot-shots at each other on an almost daily basis. The TV ads, many of them attack ads, will grow like kudzu on a Georgia highway.

The DCCC has been firing off emails several times a week criticizing Chabot for recent congressional votes, where, they say, he was on the wrong side of issues important to families in his district.

It’s a long list. They have hammered away at Chabot for votes against:

  • $28 million for the Food and Drug Administration to help end the current baby formula shortage and preventing it from happening again.
  • Capping the price of insulin for people who suffer from diabetes.
  • Voting against the infrastructure package, which could lead to a solution to the problem of the overworked and outdated Brent Spence Bridge.
  • Voting against increased funding for veterans' health care benefits.

Landsman told me he believes Chabot votes the way he does on issues that have bipartisan support because of the influence of Trump and that Chabot does the bidding of corporate campaign contributors.

"He's doing what his party, Trump, and his donors want him to do," Landsman told me. "He is with them — big pharma, oil, the insurance industry. Ultimately, they are going to pay for his campaign.

"He is with them, and not with the folks at home," Landsman said.

In talking with me, Conradi didn’t address the votes the DCCC and Landsman cite, but he defended Chabot as a congressman who has "demonstrated a long track record of working for the people of the 1st District."

Conradi said Chabot had a major role to play in passage of the Payday Protection program, which helped small business owners keep their employees on the payroll during the height of the COVID pandemic.

"He had a major role to play in the Drive Safe Act, which helped truckers and addressed the supply chain problems," Conradi said. "In the meantime, Landsman was trying to ban soft drinks from menus in Cincinnati."

It's clear that Chabot's campaign is going to go after Landsman on an allegation that the Democrat wanted to "defund police" in 2020 when it seemed possible that the city might take $200,000 from the Cincinnati Police Department to fund the Citizens Complaint Authority.

"Steve's opponent, who used to work for Nancy Pelosi, wanted to defund the police,'' Conradi said, using a story from WLWT in 2020 as his justification.

Landsman's campaign sent me an audio clip from a council meeting at the time in which Landsman suggested the police department might actually end up with more money rather than less.

"Chabot and the Republicans are going to lie about this," Landsman told me. "If you are willing to lie about a presidential election being stolen, you'll lie about anything."

And, yes, Landsman said, he was a member of Pelosi's congressional staff "about 20 years ago."

"They don't want to talk about anything that matters to the working families of this district," Landsman said. "It’s really rude to the voters when you talk about things they don't really care about."

And then there was the "Gang of Five."

Landsman was among the five Democratic city council members named in a civil lawsuit where they admitted to illegally texting each other about about city business in 2018, a violation of Ohio's Open Meetings law.

There is no doubt it will be fodder for a Chabot campaign ad in the fall.

"My role in this was minimal and I took full responsibility for it," Landsman said. "The voters overwhelmingly re-elected me last fall."

Clearly this is going to be one of those races where both sides have plenty of opposition research to turn on each other. It will be non-stop for five-and-a-half months.

Fasten your seatbelts. Put your tray tables in an upright and locked position. We're about to hit some pretty rough turbulence.