Rep. Charlie Wilson (D)
Ohio 6th District
In the years after the American Revolution, the Ohio River was one of the great highways west. From Pittsburgh, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio, the river led south and west toward the Mississippi and the great port of New Orleans. Shipping goods downriver by raft was cheaper than sending them over the Appalachian Mountains, and so the Ohio became a great highway of commerce. For hundreds of miles, the Ohio twisted this way and that through rounded-off mountains and rolling hills, land that marked the boundary between post-Revolutionary Virginia and the Northwest Territory, between slaveholding territory and free soil as determined by the Confederation Congress of 1787. Across this boundary, settlers made their way in those years—Yankees in 1788 to Marietta, Ohio’s first town, and, in larger numbers, Virginians. By the late 19th century, the Ohio was an industrial river. Coal was nearby, barge transportation was available and railroads were built in the narrow valleys between the hills. Steel mills went up on the riverfront. This produced prosperity for a while, but it also produced pollution—Steubenville on the Ohio River once had the nation’s dirtiest air—and after the old-line steel industry fell on hard times, the Ohio River was lined with some of the least prosperous parts of America. Even with mandates from the Clean Air Act, the pollution in much of this area from coal-fired power plants remains. Construction was scheduled to start in 2009 on a $2.9 billion clean coal power plant in Meigs County to employ ammonium scrubbers.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 6th Congressional District of Ohio is made up of a string of counties running 325 miles along the Ohio River, plus part of the Mahoning Valley, named after a narrow tributary of the Ohio. In the north, it includes the Youngstown suburbs of Boardman, Canfield and part of Poland in Mahoning County, and East Liverpool and Steubenville on the river. It curves along the lightly populated stretch of the river south from Marietta, past the old industrial town of Ironton and extends to the city limits of Portsmouth, not quite in the Cincinnati metropolitan area. Much of this area is part of poverty-ridden Appalachia. Athens County, with a poverty rate of 32% in 2007, is the state’s poorest county. The steel and coal areas in the north became Democratic during the 1930s and the southern counties started trending Republican in the 1960s. This mix makes for a Democratic-leaning district but the cultural conservatism of this region, much like that of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky across the river, put it narrowly in George W. Bush’s column, by 49% in 2000 and 51% in 2004. In 2008, the close trend continued with John McCain narrowly winning 50%-48%.
Rep. Charlie Wilson (D)
Elected: 2006, 2nd term.
Born: Jan. 18, 1943, Martins Ferry .
Home: St. Clairsville.
Education: Cincinnati Col. of Mortuary Science, 1967, OH U., B.A. 1980.
Family: Divorced; 4 children.
Elected office: OH House of Reps., 1996-2004; OH Senate, 2004-06.
Professional Career: Welder, painter, assembly-line worker, 1963-64; Owner, Wilson Funeral and Furniture Co., 1966-2006; Owner, Wilson Realty Co., 1978-2006.
The congressman from the 6th District is Charlie Wilson, a Democrat elected in 2006, and just the fifth person to reach Congress by running a write-in campaign. Wilson was born in Martins Ferry, across the Ohio River from Wheeling, W.V. He worked as a UAW welder, painter and assembly line worker before earning his mortician’s license from Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science in 1967. He started the Wilson Funeral and Furniture Company in 1966 and the Wilson Realty Company in 1978 and, as a 37-year-old businessman, got his bachelor’s degree from Ohio University. In 1996, Wilson won the first of four terms in the Ohio House, where he served as Democratic whip and assistant leader. In 2004, he was term-limited in the House and won a seat in the state Senate. Wilson worked in the Legislature to improve health care, spur job creation and promote economic development in the Ohio Valley. When Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland announced he would run for governor, Democrats touted Wilson as their top candidate to run for the seat.
|Charlie Wilson (D)||176,330||(62%)||($598,718)|
|Richard Stobbs (R)||92,968||(33%)|
|Dennis Spisak (Green)||13,812||(5%)|
|Charlie Wilson (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (62%)
Despite a decade in the Legislature, Wilson made a classic rookie mistake that nearly sunk his campaign. He failed to file the nominal 50 valid signatures to register his candidacy. His son, acting as campaign manager, submitted 96 signatures, but only 46 came from within the district and were valid. The bungled filing was an enormous embarrassment and national Democrats began to wonder about Wilson’s ability to capture the seat, especially against a strong Republican candidate, Chuck Blasdel, the speaker pro tempore of the Ohio State House. Wilson could either run as an independent or mount a write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination, both uphill endeavors. He chose the latter.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee agreed to help, but insisted on installing a professional manager. The DCCC flooded the district with radio and television ads while the Ohio AFL-CIO mobilized the district’s union members by making 120,000 phone calls and putting 300 volunteers in the field. Wilson says he knocked on 40,000 doors and wrote 4,000 personal letters. The field work paid off. Wilson won the primary with an astounding 66%, with 43,687 write-in votes. In the meantime, Blasdel won the GOP primary with a lackluster 47%, and by the fall the district had fallen off the Republicans’ list of targeted Democratic seats. Wilson defeated Blasdel 62%-38% in the general election and won all 12 counties in the district.
In the House, Wilson established a centrist voting record and joined the Blue Dog Coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats. He got behind the effort to impose “pay as you go” budgeting on lawmakers, which requires any tax cuts or spending increases be offset elsewhere in the budget. He got a seat on the Financial Services Committee, and during the housing market crisis, he worked with Ohio Republicans on a plan to direct a larger share of funds to buy foreclosed homes to harder-hit states. In January 2007, Wilson was one of only 16 House Democrats to vote against additional federal funding for embryonic-stem-cell research, which uses excess cells from in vitro fertilization. On the war in Iraq, he was a strong supporter of “benchmarks” for progress, but opposed deadlines for withdrawing U.S. troops.
Wilson has had to withstand some good-natured ribbing from colleagues that he is not the real Rep. Charlie Wilson, the swashbuckling Texan of the same name who dated gorgeous women, fought the mujahudeen in Afghanistan and was featured in a 2007 film starring Tom Hanks. That Charlie Wilson is now retired from Congress. The new Charlie Wilson got re-elected with an impressive 62%-33% in 2008.