Northwest Ohio's two congressional races have incumbents in newly drawn districts facing challengers looking to knock the sitting lawmakers out of what were meant to be reasonably safe seats.
The 9th District race features Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) and Republican challenger Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher of Springfield Township vying for a seat that represents parts or all of Lucas, Ottawa, Erie, Lorain, and Cuyahoga counties. Libertarian Sean Stipe is also running.
Miss Kaptur, 66, said she's focused on a continued economic recovery in the region by boosting established industries, such as automotive and the energy sectors, and diversifying local economies by helping emerging industries with research and development. She also said she wants to protect Social Security and Medicare for current and future generations, saying she doesn't trust Wall Street with funds for those programs.
Mr. Wurzelbacher, 38, who is working full-time on his campaign, said he hopes to boost prosperity by reforming the tax code and regulations, which he said are killing businesses. He said both major political parties allow the federal government to be too involved in private markets.
"We need to back the federal govenrment out of the private market and let it work," he said.
Mr. Wurzelbacher, who since his Republican primary victory has received little in the way of party support, said he considered running as an independent and plans to focus on serving constituents, not a political party. He criticized his opponent, saying she only serves the Democratic Party. He said that if elected, he would only serve for six years, at most.
He said he's not going to Washington to make friends and wants to shake up Congress.
"I never hoped or expected the Republican Party to get behind me," Mr. Wurzelbacher said, "because in order for that to happen you have to kiss the right ass, and that's something I don't know how to do."
Miss Kaptur rejected her opponent's characterization of her career, saying she represents all her constituents and tries to work across party lines. She called Mr. Wurzelbacher an extreme candidate.
"For their party to endorse someone who isn't even grateful for the endorsement of the party tells you how far out he really is," she said. "And some of his positions are inexplicable to me."
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A 15-term incumbent, she pointed to her record of helping successful projects in the area, such as renovations of Toledo's port and the building of the Veterans' Glass City Skyway. If re-elected, she stands to become the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which could lead to favorable funding for the region.
Mr. Stipe, 40, who owns a painting and contracting businesses, acknowledged his slim chances but said he's tried to advance his message of restructuring the federal tax code into a national consumption tax. He said Miss Kaptur has failed to address tax reform and criticized Mr. Wurzelbacher for living outside district and for not talking enough about reducing the federal government.
The 5th District contest between Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) and Democratic challenger Angela Zimmann of Springfield Township has centered on jobs and the economy, but more recently, the lack of a formal debate between the two has been the big issue.
“People are concerned about jobs. It doesn’t matter if it is rural, urban, or suburban,” Ms. Zimmann said. “Over and over, all across the district, they bring up the debate. That is one of the first things they bring up.”
Mr. Latta, 56, who is serving his third term after being re-elected in 2010, said he has in fact answered head-to-head questions 11 times during various candidate forums. While Ms. Zimmann, 39, has been criticizing Mr. Latta’s voting record for being out of touch with the needs of northwest Ohio residents, the congressman defended his record.
He said people in the district often voice the same concerns that he has attempted to address. Mr. Latta cited his opposition to “overburdensome regulation, the high cost of energy,” taxes, and President Obama’s health-care legislation.
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“First and foremost, I support balance budget amendments to the Constitution ... the Democrats wouldn’t go along with us,” Mr. Latta said. “The number one thing we have to do is balance that budget.”
He warned about out-of-control spending and that foreign creditors own $5.3 trillion of the country’s debt.
“When you are looking at the situation of $16 trillion in debt today, we are looking at $225 billion in interest and the congressional budget office said in 10 years we are looking $625 billion in interest,” Mr. Latta said.
Mr. Latta, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has sponsored legislation designed to help ease prescription-drug shortages in hospitals, and his plan to widen eligibility for retired military reservists seeking health-care coverage also became law.
Ms. Zimmann, who is a Lutheran minster and writing instructor at Bowling Green State University, said her opponent doesn’t have a record of creating jobs. She criticized Mr. Latta for opposing both a bill guaranteeing equal pay for equal work for women and the 2009 bailout of the auto industry.
If there was a debate, Ms. Zimmann said she would push the conversation toward “jobs and business since he paints himself as the pro-jobs pro-business candidate.” She said 38,000 jobs were lost in the 5th District during his tenure.
Ms. Zimmann added: “He feels like it is his birthright to the seat. We know that is not right because when he first ran he was defeated by Paul Gilmor.”
Mr. Latta's father, Delbert, served 30 years in the U.S. House, retiring in 1989.
The 5th District has traditionally been considered to have a majority of registered Republicans. A Blade analysis found 526,082 registered voters, of whom there are 117,791 registered Republicans and 47,984 registered Democrats.
But the Zimmann campaign says the area is much more evenly split. It found 369,027 registered voters, with 99,637 Democrats and 95,947 Republicans. The Latta campaign did not respond to a request for its count of the district.
The race also features Libertarian candidate Eric Eberly, 28, a real estate agent, who like Mr. Stipe, supports a national consumption tax. Mr. Eberly has raised less than $5,000 in his campaign but said the Libertarian Party is growing in northwest Ohio.
"I think the majority of people [in the area] are fiscially conservative and socially tolerate," he said. "We are trying to build a foundation for the future. We are not short sighted on this."
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