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Commentary: Will 2020 Be Steve Chabot's Swan Song?

Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, gives a thumbs up as he arrives at an election night watch party on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Cincinnati. That night, Chabot beat his Democratic opponent Aftab Pureval with 51% of the vote to Pureval's 47%.
Gary Landers
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, gives a thumbs up as he arrives at an election night watch party on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Cincinnati. That night, Chabot beat his Democratic opponent Aftab Pureval with 51% of the vote to Pureval's 47%.

I've got good news and bad news for Steve Chabot, the Westwood Republican who presumably is running for a 12th two-year term in the U.S. House next year.

Since I always try to be a nice guy, I'll give Chabot the good news first:

After weeks of buzz and people in both parties clouding the air with blue smoke, Cincinnati City Council Member Amy Murray – the highest-ranking non-judicial female Republican in Hamilton County – told WVXU Monday she is not going to challenge Chabot in the March 2020 primary election, despite the rampant speculation.

Not that Chabot would not be the favorite in such a match-up, but that has to give him some relief that he won't have Murray – who is a much more centrist Republican than Chabot – nipping at his heels in a year when Republican-leaning, college-educated women are expected to be a big factor in races all over the country, from president on down.

But, lest the congressman get too puffed by his good fortune, let's move on to the bad news.

Right now, the two major candidates for the Democratic nomination to take on Chabot in November 2020 are two well educated and accomplished women in Kate Schroder, a cancer survivor who worked for 12 years on improving health care for African children; and Nikki Foster, the daughter of immigrants and a former Air Force pilot who flew more than 200 missions over Iraq and Afghanistan refueling Air Force plans and now works for GE Aviation to recruit and hire military veterans.

Kate Schroder and Nikki Foster
Credit Courtesy of Kate Schroder and Nikki Foster
Kate Schroder and Nikki Foster

Running against a woman in 2020 could be a hot potato for Chabot to handle.

Sure, he has done it before – former Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls in 1998 and lawyer Michele Young in 2016. But those were in years when there was not a Donald Trump in the White House, who has seemed to be determined to infuriate women – particularly well-educated women – for no apparent reason than it makes him feel somehow superior.

In 2018, Chabot had a male opponent in Aftab Pureval, a young lawyer who became an overnight sensation in 2018 by knocking off a Republican woman, Tracy Winkler.

Pureval seemed to have an outside chance of winning in a district that included a lot of conservative territory – the western half of Hamilton County and all of Warren County. But he made a dog's breakfast out of his campaign with a series of staff mistakes that he did not handle well.

And he had Chabot's campaign strategists at Fountain Square Group running a very nasty ad campaign against Pureval – some would say downright ugly.

Pete Witte, a Republican and head of POWR PAC (Partnership of Westside Residents), likes both Chabot and Murray, although he says he thinks Murray would not be a formidable candidate against an entrenched congressman like Chabot.

"You can't go any more to the right than (Chabot) on your best day,'' Witte said. "It's more about what you as a candidate are willing to take. It depends on whether or not you can handle being dragged through the mud by the conservatives."  

Witte said he's not sure Murray could stand up to that in a district that includes the most conservative areas of Hamilton County and the deeply red Warren County.

Murray does not disagree.

Amy Murray currently serves on Cincinnati City Council.
Credit City of Cincinnati
Amy Murray currently serves on Cincinnati City Council.

She told WVXU that she was being urged by friends to look at running against Chabot when it appeared the Supreme Court might issue an order in the North Carolina and Maryland gerrymandering cases which would require states to redraw their congressional district maps to make them more fair to the minority party.

But the Supreme Court decided that it was up to the state legislatures to deal with gerrymandering, not the courts. And Ohio has a redistricting plan already that was passed by 75 percent of Ohio voters in 2018. It sets up a system where a map is drawn by the legislature that must have 60 percent support, including at least 40 percent minority party support.

Bottom line: Ohio will keep its present system for one more election before going to the new one – and presumably more fair one – in 2022.

"I would most likely not run for Congress as long as the district is drawn the way it is,'' Murray said. "We were hoping for a new district that would include all of Hamilton County."

But Schroder, a Hamilton County resident, and Foster, who is from Warren County, don't seem to care about the make-up of the district. They will each focus in the primary on one thing only – convincing primary voters that she is the one who can take down Steve Chabot after all these years.

"This is not going to be an easy campaign for Steve,'' Witte said. "I don't think you can treat a female opponent the way they treated Aftab, especially in an election where women voters are going to make the difference.

"Steve gets one more chance in this district that was drawn for him,'' Witte said. "There won't be any more where Hamilton County is split and Warren County is part of the First District."

2020, Witte said, "could very well be Steve Chabot's swan song."

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.