Ohio Republican Brad Wenstrup brings the perspectives of a physician and a soldier—and a political neophyte—to serving in Congress. A foot surgeon and Iraq War veteran, he scored a surprising upset over GOP 2nd District Rep. Jean Schmidt in a March 2012 primary, taking advantage of anti-incumbent sentiment in the heavily Republican district.
Wenstrup was born and raised in Cincinnati. His father is an optician, and his mother still works part-time at a Stein Mart department store. As early as second grade, Wenstrup had given thought to a career in medicine as well as serving in the military. “There were two [TV] shows I would watch with my dad. One was Combat! and the other was called Medical Center. And I knew at an early age I wanted to be a doctor, but the idea of serving never really left my mind,” Wenstrup recalled in an interview.
Wenstrup opened his practice in 1986 and it was incorporated into Wellington Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine in 1999. He joined the Army Reserve in 1998 and served as a combat surgeon in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. “I tell people, it’s the worst thing I ever had to do, but the best thing I ever got to do,” he says. Not long after the prisoner-abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison erupted, he was stationed at a combat support hospital within the prison walls. He treated U.S. troops, civilians, and some enemy combatants.
Politics became more intriguing to Wenstrup when he returned from Iraq. “I started to see people in Washington making military decisions that have never served, making health care plans that have never seen a patient or dealt with insurance companies or Medicaid and Medicare,” he said. He ran for mayor of Cincinnati in 2009 and faced off against incumbent Democratic Mayor Mark Mallory. Though Wenstrup lost, he took a respectable 46 percent of the vote in a Democratic-leaning city. The strong showing raised his profile.
In 2011, he launched a challenge to Schmidt in the 2nd Congressional District, Republican territory covering the east Cincinnati suburbs. Though few political prognosticators viewed Schmidt as vulnerable, she had her past electoral troubles. In 2006, she faced a tough primary challenge and won with just 48 percent of the vote. In the 2006 and 2008 general elections, she got just 50 percent and 45 percent, respectively. She was also dubbed “Mean Jean” in the blogosphere and had not always endeared herself to colleagues in Washington and Ohio.
In February 2012, Wenstrup got a key endorsement from the Ohio Liberty Council, a coalition of tea party groups. In addition, the anti-incumbency super PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability spent money against Schmidt. Wenstrup criticized her for owing money to lawyers at the Turkish Coalition of America while she sat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The Schmidt campaign said that the money was donated before she served on the committee, and that Schmidt had returned some of the attorneys’ fees. Wenstrup also ran an ad attacking her votes for the debt-ceiling increase and Wall Street bailout, while mentioning that Schmidt kissed President Obama at the State of the Union address. He won easily, 49 percent to 43 percent.
Two months after the primary election, Wenstrup married financial consultant Monica Klein. “She’s behind me doing this,” he says of his decision to run for office. In the general election, Wenstrup faced token opposition in Democrat William Smith, a former postal worker who spent no campaign money. Wenstrup won easily.