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Commentary: Meet The Democratic Women Vying To Take On Steve Chabot

Kate Schroder, left, and Nikki Foster during a question and answer session held by the Bold New Democracy Work Group, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, in Cincinnati.
Gary Landers
Kate Schroder, left, and Nikki Foster during a question and answer session held by the Bold New Democracy Work Group, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, in Cincinnati.

You would think that, at some point, this gerrymandering trick Ohio Republicans played eight years ago to create a Democrat-proof district for U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot would wear thin.

The 67-year-old Republican will be running for his 12th term in the 1st Congressional District this year. It's hard to remember that just a few years ago he had to scrap like a street fighter to defeat the Democrats' golden boy, Aftab Pureval, who, in effect, defeated himself with a series of boneheaded political moves.

This next one could take all the strength Chabot, the former LaSalle High School and William & Mary football player, has left. This is one where we might see how much high-octane petrol Chabot has in his tank.

Why, you ask? It will be the same district – the somewhat more Republican half of Hamilton County (now a true-blue county) and all of Warren County, where Donald Trump won 66% of the vote in 2016.

It may be the last time that district is skewed toward Republicans because of the new redistricting system approved by Ohio voters in 2018. The map-makers will likely not be able to split blue Hamilton County the way it is now.

Here in Southwest Ohio, the next election cycle may well be the Year of the Woman that pundits and political scientists have been anticipating nationwide for some time. If it is, it will likely be good news for Democrats and bad news for Republicans. And if Republicans are looking for someone to blame for that, they can probably look no further than Donald Trump.

And guess what?

Two Democratic women – both with substantial support in Democratic circles – will face each other for the right to take on Chabot in the November 2020 general election.

Both of them have impressive resumes. They are:

  • Nikki Foster of Mason, a former Air Force pilot who flew more than 200 missions over Iraq and Afghanistan refueling Air Force planes and now works for GE Aviation to recruit and hire military veterans for the company. She is the daughter of immigrants – a father from the Philippines, a mother from the Netherlands.
  • Kate Schroder, a cancer survivor, who has spent the past 12 years working for the Clinton Health Access Initiative, part of Bill and Hillary Clinton's foundation, where she focused on improving health care for children in Africa. She lived in Zambia for two years, and has traveled extensively on the African continent.

Both are married with children. Only one, Foster, has run for public office before, taking 39% of the vote against GOP State Rep. Paul Zeltwanger in 2018, in a district entirely in Warren County. The other, Schroder, has the endorsement of the Hamilton County Democratic Party executive committee. 

Whichever one wins the primary on March 17, she can go into the general election with a ready-made argument that may resonate with a lot of voters, particularly younger voters: I have done things other than run for office for the past 35 years.

It's a fact – Chabot won a Cincinnati City Council seat in 1985. Then he was appointed to a vacant seat on the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners and later won election. Then, in 1994, he took on incumbent Democrat David Mann for the 1st Congressional District seat and has run every two years since then. He has only one loss – Democrat Steve Driehaus rode the Obama wave in 2008 and shoved Chabot out of office, but Chabot came back to defeat Driehaus two years later and has been sitting there, all nice and comfy, ever since.

Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot gives a thumbs up during an election night watch party on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018 in Cincinnati. That night, he bested Democrat Aftab Pureval with 51% of the vote.
Credit Gary Landers / AP
Steve Chabot in Cincinnati the night of the 2018 primary elections.

That's like a lifetime of non-stop campaigning. Most of us would shudder in horror at such a life, but others, like Chabot, seem to enjoy it.

After Foster announced her campaign last July, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) put out a rather snarky press release calling her a "socialist loser." (A loser because she lost to Zeltwanger; a socialist because she believes in Democratic party principles.)

"Considering she handily lost her campaign for the Ohio state legislature,'' NRCC spokeswoman Camille Gallo said, "this latest run should go swimmingly for Nikki."

So why attack a candidate before she's even won a primary?

Because political parties like to define their opponents before their opponents can define themselves.

"They can say whatever they want,'' Foster said. "I'm running on who I am and what I can do for the people of this district."

Shroder dismissed the NRCC attack, even though it wasn't aimed at her. Sooner or later, the GOP will get around to calling her a socialist, too.

"I know myself and I know who I am,'' Shroder said. "There are too many good people out there who are unwilling to run this gauntlet and expose themselves to this venom. It's really become a hate-filled process."

Stick around, folks.

You're going to hear the word "socialist" applied to Democratic candidates from president to dog warden for the next eight months. Nearly every Republican candidate is going to use it – even though there are more than a few of them who couldn't define it.

You probably won't hear Chabot say it, though.

He has people for that. 

This article first appeared in July 2019 and has been updated. 

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

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Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.