Robin Weirauch, center, campaigns during the Old Fort Halloween parade in Old Fort, Ohio, the hometown of U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor. Ms. Weirauch is trying to unseat Mr. Gillmor from the 5th District post.
OTTAWA, Ohio - With 18 years in Congress and the previous 22 in the Ohio House of Representatives, U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor (R., Tiffin) would seem a shoo-in for a 10th term in the predominantly Republican 5th District.
Don't tell Robin Weirauch that.
The Democrat from Napoleon is trying a second time to unseat Mr. Gillmor, this time with a healthy dose of anti-Republican sentiment on her side.
"I can't tell you how many people have come up to me and told me they're looking for better representation, that this country needs change," Ms. Weirauch, who has not held public office, said.
"I've had people tell me they've always voted Republican, but this year they're voting Democrat. Things cannot go on the way they've always been.
"And," she adds. "I have to give people a viable alternative."
While she garnered just 33 percent of the vote in 2004, she said she believes she has a serious chance of winning Tuesday.
"Absolutely. I really do," Ms. Weirauch, 49, said this week while in Ottawa, Ohio, between campaign stops.
"There is a sentiment around that folks feel [incumbents like Mr. Gillmor] have been around too long. People are feeling that we deserve more than that."
Mr. Gillmor, 67, said he stands by his record in Congress. One of the bills he sponsored recently led to the creation of a national database of sex offenders, another enabled children's hospitals to qualify for discount prescription drugs, and another toughened requirements on leaking underground storage tanks.
Mr. Gillmor conceded he and other Republicans on the ballot could be affected by the current political climate but not necessarily defeated.
"It may affect some votes. I don't know," he said. "I've been through a number of campaigns including this one, and this campaign feels very good. We feel very good about the way the campaign is going."
Mr. Gillmor said there always are disgruntled members of both parties who vote for candidates of the opposite party, but added, "What usually happens when members of a party are unhappy is they tend not to vote."
Rex Damschroder, who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Gillmor in the 2002 Republican primary, said he predicts Republicans will take "a hit this election to the tune of maybe 5 percent" in part because of the war in Iraq and the scandals that have plagued Republicans.
"In the 5th District race, you could put a no-name Democrat on the ballot and they'll probably get 40 to 45 percent [of the vote]," he said. "Robin [Weirauch] has run in the past, and I think she is a credible person. You add that with the correction for this election, and that's putting her up there within striking range."
Like most underdog candidates, though, Ms. Weirauch is spending considerably less than her opponent.
According to federal campaign-finance records, through mid-October Mr. Gillmor's campaign had raised about $509,000 for his re-election bid, while Ms. Weirauch had raised about $83,000.
With time running out in the campaign, Mr. Gillmor had already spent $345,396 and still had $408,641 left to pour into the race. Ms. Weirauch, who has put about $14,000 of her own money into her campaign, spent $77,372 and had just $7,538 in reserve for the final weeks of the campaign.
Records show Mr. Gillmor collected more than $400,000 from political action committees that largely represent banking, accounting, energy, industry, insurance, and health-care interests.
Ms. Weirauch has taken about $9,000 from PACs, which mostly represent organized labor interests.
Mr. Gillmor said his campaign has done more radio and television advertising than it did in 2004, but he attributed that to the fact that 2004 was a presidential election, which brings out more voters.
Ms. Weirauch said she has only done limited advertising on local cable stations because of financial constraints, but has been campaigning seven days a week in the expansive 5th District, which encompasses part or all of 16 northwest Ohio counties, including Fulton, Wood, and three southwestern townships in Lucas County.
Using a retired ambulance - it's a 1991 Ford Econoline van that runs on bio-diesel fuel - Ms. Weirauch said she offers voters CPR: caring, personal representation.
She has focused her campaign on the need to develop clean energy sources, to keep jobs in the district, to provide accessible and affordable health care for everyone, to raise the minimum wage, and bring "a responsible end to the war in Iraq."
Most recently employed as assistant director of the Center for Regional Development at Bowling Green State University, which conducts research and assists local communities with economic development projects, she said she resigned this fall to campaign full-time.
As she talks to voters, she tells them she wants to listen and take their concerns to Washington.
She also points out that she lives - and plans to keep on living - in the 5th District.
Born near Dayton, Ms. Weirauch moved to Henry County in fifth grade, and graduated from Liberty Center High School and Bowling Green State University. She and her husband, Bruce, a retired Napoleon police officer, live just outside Napoleon.
Mr. Gillmor, a native of Old Fort in Seneca County, purchased a condominium in Tiffin earlier this year but he and his wife, Karen, make their primary home in the Columbus suburb of Dublin.
Mrs. Gillmor works in Columbus as vice chairman of the State Employment Relations Board, and their three sons attend Dublin City Schools.
Mr. Damschroder, who raised the residency issue in his 2002 primary campaign, said it's clearly "baggage" for Mr. Gillmor.
"I want a representative that lives and works and eats and sleeps in the district and their family the same," he said. "That to me is a personal choice for my representative."
While Mr. Gillmor insists his home has always been Seneca County, he said his constituents are more interested in what he accomplishes than where he lives.
"I represent the views of a majority of the district," he said.
Staff writer Steve Eder contributed to this report.
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