Last Friday, Politico published a sober analysis of the congressional race in my home district – Ohio’s 15th. According to the reporter, our one-term Democratic incumbent, Mary Jo Kilroy, is struggling to hold on against a Republican challenger she narrowly beat in 2008.
The reasons for this seem to have less to do with Mary Jo’s character, legislative skills or political values – like many of her constituents, I call her by her first name – than with the caricature of Democrats generally as reckless spenders, dissatisfaction with the economy, and the public’s general impatience with and anger towards incumbents. She and fellow Democrats, like Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Lieutenant Governor (and senatorial candidate) Lee Fisher, are supposedly suffering from Democrats’ lesser enthusiasm this year to support their party.
Last night, however, a crowd of about 35,000 turned out on the campus of Ohio State – or, as we like to say, The Ohio State University – to welcome the President and Michelle Obama, as well as the other candidates on the Democratic slate in Ohio. And their enthusiasm made me wonder: how much of the Democrats’ supposed lack of enthusiasm and people’s anger towards incumbents is an exaggerated media narrative that voter behavior will not bear out?
In a recent essay, political consultant Robert Creamer outlined nine reasons he suspects Democrats will actually retain control of the House of Representatives in the next Congress. Many of them seem directly relevant to Ohio’s 15th District. For example:
• The pollsters’ undercounting of cell phone users;
• Voters’ possible doubts about supporting an untested challenger who, as compared to the incumbent, seems to take contradictory positions, flirts with bizarre ideas (such as the repeal of the popular election of Senators), and embrace policies – such as permanent tax-breaks for the wealthiest Americans – that are at least as unpopular as those of the Democrats;
• Increasing popular resentment about the influx of anonymous corporate money, typically devoted to helping Republican candidates drown out opposing opinions;
• The enthusiastic and likely-Democratic participation of minority voters; and
• The capacity of Barack and Michelle Obama to energize the base.
Moreover, Mary Jo’s appeal does not just rest on the scariness of a GOP House takeover – anyone want to watch an impeachment investigation over birth certificates, for example? – or her opponent’s unwillingness or inability to offer any new policy ideas for Ohio. It rests on the truth that she has been just the kind of House member she promised she would be – a progressive voice for middle and working class Ohioans.
The health care legislation she supported bans lifetime limits on health coverage, extends the age qualification for children to remain on their parents’ insurance policies, prohibits the denial of insurance to children with pre-existing conditions, and bars cancellations in coverage due to irrelevant mistakes on insurance applications. She co-sponsored the Credit Card Holders’ Bill of Rights. She has backed additional spending for border security, community policing, and tax incentives to help small businesses hire the unemployed. She has even been endorsed by the political action committee of the Veterans of Foreign Wars – an interesting achievement against an opponent who has served in the military.
When asked in a recent debate why he supports making tax breaks permanent for the thin sliver of the American public that makes over $250,000 a year, Mary Jo’s opponent said: “”I think, frankly, we have a big problem in this country if we punish success.” So, I wonder, what if voters in my home district agree with that sentiment – and decide to support Mary Jo Kilroy?