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The topic came up last month on the way to a White House Christmas Party, an event oozing with political prestige if there ever was one.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) knew Ben Konop wanted a career in public service, and told him about her work recruiting Ohio Democrats to run for the U.S. House of Representatives - and specifically about one district where the incumbent was an entrenched Republican and the odds were long.
Having once worked in her Capitol Hill office, Mr. Konop, a native of the Toledo area and now a Washington lawyer, knew and respected her.
He left the White House that night inspired and impressed.
“It was an amazing evening,” said Mr. Konop.
It began a process of exploration that climaxed in his filing Jan. 2 to run a campaign in Ohio s 4th District. Friday, he left his law firm in Washington to move to Ada, Ohio, to campaign full time against incumbent Republican Mike Oxley, of nearby Findlay.
Robin Weirauch had it in her mind to run for Congress in another northwest Ohio district when she had a telephone conversation with Miss Kaptur, the longest-serving of Ohio s six congressional Democrats. Later, she spent hours driving to and from Columbus with Miss Kaptur to attend a training meeting for potential candidates.
Miss Kaptur told her a campaign against an incumbent Republican in the sprawling 5th District would be grueling and would require lots of money and “four good tires on the car.” But as she watched the 11-term congressman at local events, Ms. Weirauch said she was inspired by the care Miss Kaptur took with constituents.
She decided to get involved.
“We were meeting personally and she just stood up and grabbed my hand, and was so excited for me, she thanked me for doing this for my country. That solidified it in my mind that this is a really phenomenal decision,” Ms. Weirauch said.
She has filed paperwork to challenge incumbent Republican Paul Gillmor.
Miss Kaptur s involvement as a recruiter reflects her new position as “dean” of the Ohio delegation of congressional Democrats, taking the unofficial title from Tony Hall, who left Congress in early 2002 for an ambassadorship.
The Toledo Democrat said she was asked by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California to lead the candidate recruitment effort in Ohio, but she later found her own “motivating forces” - the growing dominance of the Republican Party in Ohio politics, and a lack of attention to federal races by the state Democratic Party.
“You didn t have to convince me too much,” she said. Republicans “have so much money that I couldn t wait any more for others” to act, she said. “I thought that we have to do our part. [Republicans] put money against me, and they recruited candidates against me.
“You just cannot sit back and not step up to the table when you see what has happened on the other side of the aisle, and your party is absent,” she added.
In addition to controlling every statewide office, the state Supreme Court, and both houses of the General Assembly, Ohio s congressional delegation also is dominated by Republicans. They hold 12 seats, compared to six for the Democrats.
“I am not sure where you draw the line, but I think we are saying that enough is enough. Our party has to have a seat at the table. Their power needs to be challenged - it has become so great in this state,” Miss Kaptur said.
She said she believes Ohio s Republican congressmen - including some of the most powerful legislators on Capitol Hill - have allowed the GOP “southern wing,” including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, to take their party - and the nation - too far to the right.
“Personally, Marcy and I have always gotten along very well. I like her. We don t vote the same on many issues, but that is the American way,” said Congressman Ralph Regula (R., Navarre), dean of the Ohio GOP congressional delegation. He disputed the idea that Ohio s delegation is out of step.
“We think that the Republican policies are more consistent with what people of Ohio like. That is pretty evident in the fact that the Republicans have substantial control of both houses in Columbus, that we have all the state offices, and we have a 2-1 [advantage in the delegation] in Congress.”
Denny White, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said he has initiated a plan this election cycle to work with his six congressmen to find and train a good crop of U.S. House candidates. As a result, all 12 Ohio Republican congressmen will face a trained Democratic opponent in November.
Lawyer Ed Jerse of Euclid is another candidate that Miss Kaptur helped recruit. A Democratic state representative, he is making his first run for Congress in northeast Ohio s 14th District.
“It s a pretty intimidating thing to run for Congress, and it s nice to have someone who s taken an interest from the congressional level,” he said.
Republican Steve LaTourette now holds that seat.
Mr. Jerse is locked in a five-way primary contest for the party s nomination to face Mr. LaTourette. He has talked several times with Miss Kaptur, and has attended training sessions she organized in Columbus. Those were helpful, but for Mr. Jerse and the others, Miss Kaptur has proven true a time-tested political adage - that it s not what you know, but who you know.
It s “good that she has the contacts in Washington to hook you up to the next level in the hierarchy,” he said.