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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: Steve Chabot lost a race he shouldn't have run in the first place

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, talks with constituent Latesha Wilson, right, at a park in Reading, Ohio, on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022.
Will Weissert
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, talks with constituent Latesha Wilson, right, at a park in Reading, Ohio, on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022.

Steve Chabot knew it was coming. He had to.

It was a locomotive barreling down the tracks and he couldn't get out of the way.

It ended Tuesday night, with Democrat Greg Landsman of Mount Washington defeating the Westwood Republican in Ohio's 1st Congressional District, a seat that Chabot has held for all but two of the past 28 years.

The irony is this: The same Ohio Republicans in the state legislature who gave him a relatively safe district for the past decade suddenly yanked the rug out from under him in 2022, giving him a redrawn district that made Chabot the incumbent underdog from the get-go.

The Republican legislative leadership in Columbus, under pressure to create a map that would give Democrats some winnable districts, decided Steve Chabot was expendable.

Tuesday night, after conceding to Landsman in what he described as a "short" phone call, he stood before reporters and supporters at a watch party at Hamilton County GOP headquarters Downtown, and all but said he had no chance.

The reality, Chabot said, was that the district had been redrawn from one that went for Donald Trump by 3 percentage points in 2020 to one that went to Joe Biden by about 9 percentage points.

"It is the toughest Republican-held district in the country, except for California,'' Chabot told reporters. "There were three tougher districts in California. But in the other 49 states, it was the toughest."

He knew that, but he ran anyway, becoming the guest at a house party who won't leave, even in the wee hours of the morning.

In 2011, the last time the GOP legislature re-drew congressional districts, Chabot had just come back to the U.S. House a year earlier after a two-year absence.

In 2008, Chabot lost the seat he had held for 14 years when Democrat Steve Driehaus was swept into office by the Barack Obama wave.

Chabot knew something about members of Congress being swept out of office by a voter-led tsunami. In 1994, Chabot had done the same thing to the Democratic incumbent, David Mann, making Mann a one term congressman by riding in on the Newt Gingrich-inspired "Contract with America" wave.

Driehaus held on to the seat for one term, but by the time the 2010 election came around, the Obama fervor had subsided and Chabot was able to defeat Driehaus.

And he has held it ever since, thanks in large part to the new 1st District map drawn by the statehouse Republicans in 2011.

They grafted Warren County onto the 1st District, one of the most heavily Republican counties in Ohio. Combined with the West Side of Cincinnati and all of western Hamilton County, where Chabot was very popular, he had a district where Democrats like Aftab Pureval and Kate Schroder could make a race of it, but fell short of defeating the GOP incumbent.

This year, though, the Republicans gob-smacked Chabot by redrawing his district again and made his life miserable.

Congressional map adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission on March 2, 2022 by a 5 to 2 vote.
Ohio Redistricting Commission
Congressional map adopted by the Ohio Redistricting Commission on March 2, 2022 by a 5 to 2 vote.

Warren County remained. But western Hamilton County was taken away, gifted to Warren Davidson of Troy, a Republican congressman who is apparently in the good graces of the Ohio Republican Party.

And instead of just the West Side of Cincinnati, where Chabot did well in places like Price Hill, Covedale, and often, his home neighborhood of Westwood, the entire city of Cincinnati and all of eastern Hamilton County was added to the 1st District.

The city of Cincinnati, of course, is a very Democratic place. Witness the fact that eight of nine Cincinnati City Council seats are held by Democrats.

As someone who has covered Chabot since his days on Cincinnati City Council, it seemed to me that he had lost his zeal for campaigning.

In the old days, the congressman was everywhere, passing out his signature yellow plastic cups at church festivals and holiday parades throughout the district.

He would even drive around the West Side in his gas-guzzling Buick land yacht, personally delivering yard signs and pounding them into the ground of friendly homeowners.

I remember one time he proudly showed me that he had measured the trunk of the Buick and how it was a perfect fit for his over-sized yard signs.

This time, though, he really wasn't seen much. He let the 30-second attack ads speak for him.

It worked in Warren County, where 66% of the voters supported him Tuesday. But it failed miserably in the city of Cincinnati and even in suburban Anderson Township, where the campaign of Rachel Baker, a successful candidate for an open Ohio House seat, helped boost Landsman.

In his televised debates with Landsman, Chabot often came off as an angry old man, waving his fist and yelling at the kid to get off his lawn.

He pointed his finger at Landsman and repeated his specious claim that Landsman had "defunded the police" on City Council.

And he went on and on about "AOC's Green New Deal,'' as if that was something Landsman was advocating. And he never seemed to tire of painting Landsman as the chief advisor to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi because Landsman, years ago, had some low-level job sorting mail or something in Pelosi's congressional office.

It was all irrelevant nonsense. But when his opponent wanted to talk about Chabot's vote to not certify Pennsylvania's electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election, Chabot said that wasn't worth talking about — the only things that mattered, he said, were inflation and crime.

Except when he wanted to talk about AOC and Pelosi.

So, he lost the election. Stick a fork in him; he's done.

It's hard to say how long Landsman will be able to hold on to the seat. The Republicans in the legislature are licking their chops because this map is only good for the 2022 election cycle. And now, the statehouse GOP will have a compliant Ohio Supreme Court to rubber-stamp whatever new maps they come up with.

Stay tuned for that.

The fact is Chabot should have never run this year. And I think he knows it.

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