Can Chabot be beaten? These two think so

Apr 13, 2014

Many believe that a Democratic candidate might as well try to climb Mount Everest with one arm tied behind his or her back  than take on Rep. Steve Chabot in the heavily Republican 1st Congressional District.

But two local Democrats – Fred Kundrata of Pendleton and Jim Prues of North Avondale – are willing to strap on the gear and give it a shot.

Prues and Kundrata are vying for the Democratic nomination in the 1st District in the May 6 primary election.

Time was when taking on Chabot was not such a daunting task.

The former Republican Cincinnati council member and Hamilton County commissioner first wrested the seat away from the Democrats in 1994, when he defeated incumbent Democrat David Mann in an election where the GOP swept into power in the House under the banner of Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America.

Chabot was targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee a number of times. They poured a lot of effort into defeating him. High profile candidates like Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley tried and came up short.

Chabot was always on the defensive; and he ran energetic and well-funded campaigns, stumping throughout his district like a man whose hair was on fire.

Then, in 2008, the year Barack Obama won the presidency (and Hamilton County), Chabot was defeated – taken out by then state representative Steve Driehaus.

Then, after the 2010 census, the Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly gave Chabot a gift that keeps on giving.

They re-drew the congressional district lines, putting all of Warren County – one of the fastest growing and most heavily Republican counties in the state – in Chabot’s district.

Chabot made his comeback in 2010 in the old district; and Driehaus became a one-term congressman. Since 2012, he has had a much more Republican district to run in.

Two years ago, Chabot ran for re-election; and the Democratic candidate was Jeff Sinnard – who had run before unsuccessfully in the 2nd Congressional District. Sinnard made no bones about the fact that he was just doing the party a favor by putting his name on the ballot; and did virtually no campaigning whatsoever.

Sinnard ended up with 38 percent of the vote to Chabot’s 58 percent. The rest went to two minor candidates. Sinnard took only 23 percent of the vote in Warren County, but nearly 44 percent in Hamilton County, despite having no campaign to speak of.

That is where Kundrata and Prues come in.

Kundrata is a 53-year-old commercial airline pilot, lawyer, business owner and retired Air Force officer.

He said he had always thought of himself as a moderate Republican; and he entered the GOP primary in the 2nd District in 2012 because he believed then-congresswoman Jean Schmidt needed to be ousted. Brad Wenstrup turned out to be the one to defeat Schmidt in the primary and go on to win the November election with ease.

Kundrata said that it was during that race that he decided he was, in fact, a Democrat.

“I always knew I was a moderate,’’ Kundrata said. “I thought the Republican Party was far more moderate.”

But, he said, he learned differently when he saw the influence of the tea party movement on the GOP and couldn’t go along with that.

“I’m a Democrat now,’’ Kundrata said. “I fully support the unions. I want to strengthen unions. I’m a union pilot.”

Like Prues, Kundrata supports legislation raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, which House Republicans oppose.

Kundrata thinks that, even as a freshman Democrat in a House that will still likely be controlled by Republicans next year, he can have an impact.

“My core values are honesty, integrity and bipartisanship,’’ Kundrata said. “I think I could help convince moderate Republicans. Bipartisanship – that is how I plan to operate in Congress.”

Prues, 61, has a much different story to tell than Kundrata. He is owner of a video production company.  He says he and his business were victims of the recession – he now owes over $24,000 in back taxes, which is he taking care of on a payment plan.

“My business took a hit,’’ Prues said. ‘’If we had had a more responsible Congress, we might have avoided this economic meltdown.”

Prues said he wants “more transparency in our governmental system. The government knows everything about us; the big corporations know everything about us. But the government operates in the dark, hidden from public view. That’s just wrong.”

“The lobbyist system in Washington is out of control,’’ Prues said. “That’s why nothing gets done to help working people.”

Prues said he has met Chabot and has nothing against him personally.

“He seems like a good guy, a good family man, but he has just been in Washington too long,’’ Prues said.

Both of them have campaign websites – and Both are campaigning hard throughout the district, including heavily Republican Warren County. Both say they believe they can not only win the primary, but win in November.

One of them will end up being the Democratic nominee on May 6.

Then, the winner will have that big old mountain to climb.