When Jaime Castle, a Mount Washington Democrat, was mulling over the possibility of taking on U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup in Ohio's 2nd Congressional District, she met with someone who had recently been through a tough congressional campaign: Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval.
Pureval, in 2018, was an instant sensation in Democratic circles when he took on long-time Republican Congressman Steve Chabot – a campaign that was to go sour for Pureval and end in defeat.
"Aftab offered a lot of good advice,'' said Castle, a 42-year-old mother of two who works as a substitute teacher and seamstress. "He said that, in any race, there could be one thing that you didn't expect that could happen and affect your campaign for good or bad."
"Was he ever right,'' Castle said.
The "one big thing" was something that most people could never have imagined – a pandemic caused by the deadly COVID-19 virus and the subsequent shutdown of nearly every aspect of society.
It certainly changed the way a first-time candidate like Castle approached running for office in a national and international crisis, when she and her children were, for the most part, confined to their home.
The 2nd District of Ohio is a sprawling land mass that stretches for over 100 miles from the east side of Cincinnati to the western half of Scioto County, taking in all or part of seven southern Ohio counties.
In most years, running in the 2nd District means driving thousands of miles on seemingly endless two-lane highways to reach voters in the far-flung parts of the district.
But not this year. The kind of personal, one-on-one campaigning that usually is standard operating procedure in this district remains forbidden because of social distancing; and candidates – particularly ones like Castle, less well known and underfunded – have to be very creative in order to reach voters.
"I was really looking forward to going to the parades and the county fairs, because I really love that kind of thing,'' Castle said.
Instead, she has been trying to organize virtual events on social media and her campaign has sent out thousands of mailers to voters they have identified as Independents and "persuadables."
Over several decades, Republicans like Willis Gradison, Rob Portman, Jean Schmidt and now Wenstrup have kept a grip on the 2nd District largely because Clermont County is a GOP firewall.
"But even Clermont is changing,'' Castle said. "We're starting to see more people who tend to vote Democratic or Independent move into the county from Hamilton County."
It is an uphill battle for certain. Wenstrup has won the last four elections in the district with percentages ranging from 58-68% of the vote.
"I understand what I am getting into,'' Castle said. "But I'm not doing this for fun. In a year like this, who knows what could happen? I'm trying to win.'"
Soon she will have a 30-second TV ad and the money to have it air locally – a rarity for Democrats in this district.
The music on the ad, she said, was written by her 11-year-old daughter Lucy, a pianist who composed the piece when she was nine.
"How many campaigns have their own musical composers?'' Castle said.