Rep. Jean Schmidt (R)
Ohio 2nd District
For a long time, one of the most Republican urban areas in the nation has been the Cincinnati suburbs. Back in the 1850s, when Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin here, Cincinnati was an island of German, pro-Union, Republican sentiment in a Southern, Democratic, pro-slavery region. Later, Cincinnati attracted fewer southern and eastern European immigrants than Great Lakes industrial cities like Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago. The city’s ethnic character and political preference, like its physical appearance, remained pretty well fixed until very recently. Even many descendents of the Appalachians here are Republicans, from Civil War Republican counties in the hills. Democratic constituencies here never got very large. Economically, it was never a strong union town, and culturally, its conservatism was revealed in a strong anti-pornography movement that made this the site of obscenity charges filed against Hustler publisher Larry Flynt. The local Republican record remains intact: It was the only million-plus metro area that George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole carried by more than 50% in 1992 and 1996, and George W. Bush twice won the district handily. In 2008, Republican presidential nominee John McCain beat Democrat Barack Obama in the metro area.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
For 140 years after 1852, Cincinnati and surrounding Hamilton County were divided by a north-south line into two congressional districts. But today, both Cincinnati-based districts include territory in other counties. Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District includes the eastern edge of Cincinnati and the boutiques of Hyde Park Square, a more transient area than the west side neighborhoods; the mostly affluent suburban subdivisions of eastern Hamilton County; and the fast-growing suburbs of Clermont County and southern Warren County. In once-rural Clermont, Miami Township has become a bedroom community and a center of commercial development along the Interstate 275 Loop. The district also ranges farther east on the Ohio River, all the way to the old industrial city of Portsmouth and the hills of rural Pike County. These are distinctly different places—“the richest to the poorest, and everything in between,” as one area mayor put it. The metropolitan parts of the district, with roughly 80% of the people, are mostly affluent and Republican. The counties farther east are less well off, with most of the old factories gone and with pockets of high unemployment and poverty. They are close to marginal in most elections, and Pike County has a Democratic tradition. Portsmouth, on the district’s eastern fringe, has a depressed economy and an Appalachian frame of mind. Overall, this is a very Republican district with a tiny minority population. McCain won the district with 59% to Obama’s 40%.
Rep. Jean Schmidt (R)
Elected: Aug. 2005, 2nd full term.
Born: Nov. 29, 1951, Cincinnati .
Home: Miami Township.
Education: U. of Cincinnati, B.A. 1974.
Family: Married (Peter); 1 child.
Elected office: Miami Township Bd. of Trustees, 1989-2000; OH House of Reps., 2000-04.
Professional Career: Branch mgr., Midwest Savings Assoc., 1971-78; Fitness instructor, Elaine Powers, 1984-86; Teacher, 1986-90; President, Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati, 2004-05.
The congresswoman from the 2nd District is Jean Schmidt, who won an August 2005 special election. A lifelong resident of Clermont County, she grew up on her family’s farm. Her father, a well-known local banker, owned a motor-car racing team and she spent time on the racing circuit. “I’d rather smell ethanol than Chanel No. 5,” Schmidt once told the Cincinnati Enquirer. An avid runner, she has competed in marathons and continues to run in long-distance races. In 2008 and 2009, she finished first among women members of Congress in an annual charity race for lawmakers, executive branch officials and the media. Schmidt majored in political science at the University of Cincinnati and entered public life as an anti-abortion rights activist. She served 10 years as a Miami Township trustee and two terms in the state House. In 2004, she lost a state Senate primary by 22 votes. After Republican Rep. Rob Portman resigned his House seat to become the United States Trade Representative, Schmidt ran in the special election to replace him.
|Jean Schmidt (R)||148,671||(45%)||($1,276,573)|
|Victoria Wulsin (D)||124,213||(37%)||($1,972,691)|
|David Krikorian (I)||58,710||(18%)||($191,083)|
|Jean Schmidt (R)||41,987||(58%)|
|Tom Brinkman (R)||28,897||(40%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (50%), 2005 (52%)
An early favorite in the contest was Republican Pat DeWine, the son of then-U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine. He had the highest name identification and the most lavish financing, with the help of his father and the Cincinnati business establishment. But his election the previous November as Hamilton County commissioner led many to believe that he was too eager to move up the political ladder. He had also recently divorced his wife, the mother of their three small children, after having an affair with a business lobbyist. The other leading contenders were former U.S. Rep. Bob McEwen, a Washington-based lobbyist after he was defeated in 1992, and GOP state Rep. Tom Brinkman. The contest demonstrated the perils of negative campaigning. As DeWine’s support dropped, he ran negative ads against McEwen. The national anti-tax group Club for Growth ran ads against Schmidt for backing Republican Gov. Bob Taft’s tax hikes. Conservatives ended up dividing their votes among McEwen, Brinkman and Schmidt. Benefiting from her strong base in Clermont County, Schmidt was the surprise winner with 31%, to 26% for McEwen and 20% for Brinkman. DeWine was a distant fourth with 12%.
Democrats nominated attorney and Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett for what was expected to be a mere formality given the GOP tilt of the district. Instead, it became a harbinger of the 2006 midterm elections nationally. Hackett raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Internet from liberal activists. He called President George W. Bush a “chicken hawk” for his failure to serve in the Vietnam War, and strongly attacked Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. Schmidt squeaked to victory with 51.6% to Hackett’s 48.4%. Her entire margin of victory came from her Clermont base, which cast 26% of the vote and where she led by nearly 5,000 votes. She won just 51% in Republican Hamilton County, which cast 43% of the vote, and 58% in Warren County. The next day, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel, then an Illinois House member, gloated that the outcome was a “wake-up call” for Republicans.
As a junior member of the House, Schmidt gained much attention, not all of it positive. In November 2005, she blundered politically by suggesting that Democratic Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a decorated Marine, was a coward. She said that a local Marine had advised her to stay the course in Iraq and added: “He also asked me to send Congressman Murtha a message, that cowards cut and run. Marines never do.” Across the aisle, Democrats exploded in shouts and boos. Schmidt, who had apparently been oblivious to Murtha’s military background, quickly retracted her comments and apologized. She was dubbed “Mean Jean” in the blogosphere and The Cincinnati Enquirer editorialized that she was “way out of line.” Local Democrats drove a “billboard on wheels” across the district that said: “Shame on you, Jean Schmidt. Stop attacking veterans.” Then, the Enquirer reported two plagiarism incidents in which columns Schmidt wrote contained passages identical to those in columns written by former Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Ohio, and by an Ohio highway patrol official. In 2008, Schmidt repeated as fact Vice President Dick Cheney’s false claim that the Chinese government was drilling for oil off the coast of Florida.
Her first-term performance assured she would be challenged in 2006. McEwen ran again in the primary, citing his 12 years of congressional experience and calling for the start to troop withdraws in Iraq. Schmidt claimed that McEwen was a resident of Virginia and had voted illegally in Ohio. She won the primary by an unimpressive 48%-43%. Without her 4,000-vote lead in Clermont County, she would have lost. Democrats nominated Victoria Wulsin, a local physician who had finished a distant second to Hackett a year earlier and was not expected to pose a serious challenge. But Murtha stepped in to campaign for her and Wulsin ran the “cowards” speech in a television ad. Schmidt got more unwelcome attention when she said that it might be a good idea to send nuclear waste from around the world to a storage facility in Pike County. (Later, in May 2007, she introduced a bill to prohibit permanent storage of waste there.) Schmidt won, after the three weeks it took to count absentee and provisional ballots, by 50.5%-49.4%. She carried Clermont by 7,900 votes and Warren by 5,700 votes, but lost Hamilton County by nearly 5,800 votes.
She faced tough sledding in 2008 as well. Brinkman, and the state representative she beat in the 2005 special election, jumped in late to challenge her in the primary, prompting former Hamilton County commissioner Phil Heimlich to unexpectedly drop out six weeks before the vote. Schmidt won 58%-40%, and led in all of the counties. Wulsin, running again, had another campaign visit from Murtha, who said that Schmidt “shouldn’t be in Congress.” Four weeks before the election, Schmidt was treated for broken ribs and vertebrae after being struck by a hit-and-run driver while she was out running. Unlike in 2006, Wulsin this time out-spent Schmidt, with financial help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But Schmidt won, this time increasing her margin of victory over Wulsin but still not winning resoundingly. She got 45% of the vote to 37% for Wulsin and 18% for independent candidate David Kirkorian, a businessman. Schmidt got only 48% in her home base of Clermont, lost Hamilton by one point, and got less than 40% in Pike and Scioto counties. Her strongest showing was 53% in Warren County, which may have resulted from party-line Republican voting.