Every two years, the question comes up: Can anyone but a Republican win a seat in Congress from northwest Ohio's sprawling and mostly rural Fourth District? This year, with Ben Konop as the Democratic candidate, the answer is an emphatic yes.
Mr. Konop, an energetic and personable 28-year-old graduate of the University of Michigan law school, who lives in Ada, Ohio, is the best candidate in many years against the GOP's 11-term incumbent, Michael G. Oxley.
Those who doubt a newcomer's ability to upset an entrenched officeholder have only to recall 1980, when unknown Republican Ed Weber defeated Thomas Ludlow Ashley, a powerful Democrat who had held his seat in Toledo's Ninth District for 28 years.
Mr. Oxley, whose principle residence is in the Washington, D.C., suburb of McLean, Va., has become somewhat of a missing person in the Fourth District in recent years. Sure, he shows up around election time, but he has clearly lost touch with the 4,600-square-mile district, which includes the cities of Findlay, Lima, Mansfield, and Marion.
In contrast, Mr. Konop has probably spent more time in the Fourth while campaigning during the past year than Mr. Oxley has in the past two decades. The challenger has been driving, walking, knocking on doors, and talking to residents at local events - he's even bowled at least one game in each of the 28 bowling establishments in the district. In the process, he has found that voters are pleased to have a viable alternative to an absentee congressman who takes re-election for granted.
When Mr. Oxley is away from the Fourth District - which is most of the time - he can usually be found raking in millions of dollars at special-interest fund-raisers or junketing around the world on the generous tab of many of those same special interests.
As a Blade investigation last year showed, Mr. Oxley is one of Congress' most accomplished political fund-raisers, but virtually all of his financial support comes from outside the Fourth District. The money comes largely from the banking, securities, and insurance industries, which the congressman oversees from his post as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
In this position, Mr. Oxley has the opportunity to wield enormous clout on behalf of his constituents. Instead, he has chosen to use his money and power to benefit the corporate community, often to the detriment of ordinary citizens.
A vivid example:
During debate over remedying corporate ethics abuses such as Enron, Mr. Oxley worked steadfastly to defeat or water down investor-friendly measures. When it became evident that the bill would pass despite his objections, he had his name placed on the resulting legislation, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, so the public would think he was a reformer.
Against the backdrop of Mr. Oxley's far-reaching influence, we aren't going to pretend that Mr. Konop is anything but the underdog in this race. But a recent poll by the Lima News showed a startlingly close contest in the Allen County portion of the district, with the incumbent leading 45-39.
Upsets can happen under the right circumstances, especially when the current officeholder has left his roots behind to become a consummate Washington insider. For this reason, we endorse Ben Konop for Congress in the Fourth District.
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