Setting up a rematch of a bitterly contested 1988 GOP primary battle, Republican state Rep. Rex Damschroder of Fremont filed yesterday to run against U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor, the incumbent GOP congressman from Old Fort representing Ohio's 5th District.
The contest comes at a time when the face of the district is changing. Congressional redistricting has forced the 5th District to shed some of its territory along the shores of Lake Erie and other central Ohio areas. The district added Fulton County and the section of Wood County north and east of Bowling Green. About 25 percent of its voters will be new to the district.
Mr. Damshroder, 52, said he believes the new district boundaries give him a chance at victory.
“I am a viable candidate. I have paid my dues. My main motivation is that I believe, in a democracy, people should have a choice when they go into a voting booth,” he said. He is in his last term in the Ohio House under term limits. He filed nominating petitions yesterday afternoon in the Wood County Courthouse in Bowling Green, while Mr. Gillmor, 63, filed for re-election 11 days ago.
“The way the congressional districts are drawn up now, most are not competitive. If nobody comes to the plate as a Republican [in the 5th District], the voters won't have a choice. I think it's time for me to either move up or move out,” Mr. Damschroder said.
Republicans have held the 5th District seat for several decades, and the seat is listed as a “safe” GOP seat this year as well, according to National Journal's Almanac of American Politics.
In a rancorous May, 1988, Republican primary, Mr. Gillmor prevailed by a razor-thin margin over Bob Latta - whose father, Delbert, held the seat at the time - and Mr. Damschroder. Mr. Gillmor easily won the seat in November.
The race is likely to focus largely on his 14 years of service in Washington and his residency. He has three homes in Ohio, in Port Clinton in Ottawa County, Dublin in Franklin County, and Old Fort in Seneca County, where he claims residency.
He and his wife, Karen, a former state senator who works for the state Employment Relations Board in Columbus, built an expansive home in the ritzy Columbus suburb of Dublin before she took the state job and left the Ohio Senate in late 1997.
Before she left the senate, a Seneca County hearing probed charges she was living not at the Old Fort residence, in her district, but at the Dublin address. Relying partly on vague wording in the law on the residency of state senators and representatives, she successfully defended herself against the charges.
At that time, congressional records showed that Mr. Gillmor traveled almost exclusively into Port Columbus International Airport when he returned from Washington, rather than flying to Toledo or Cleveland, both of which are closer to his district. The newly revamped 5th District includes Toledo Express Airport.
Unlike members of the state legislature, congressmen do not have to live in their district, only in the state they serve. “He is the only congressman in Ohio who does not live in his district, and he is an absentee congressman in Washington as well,” Mr. Damschroder said. “That is not a personal attack. It is just his record. The record is very clear. I am personally tired of having an absentee Congressman.”
Mr. Gillmor was traveling outside the country on congressional business and was unavailable for comment, said spokesman Bailey Wood. Saying he did not know where Mr. Gillmor was - “I was not told” - the press secretary did offer that his boss will return “early next week.”
Mr. Damschroder, who operated the airport in Fostoria for 15 years before winning a seat in the General Assembly in 1994, said he remains interested in transportation issues. He and his wife, Rhonda, live with their two teenage children in Fremont.
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