Republicans at the Ohio Statehouse have done a great job keeping U.S. Representative Steve Chabot’s political career afloat for over a decade now.
But they may have reached the end of the road.
The crazy map of the congressional district that Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly drew up last fall has been struck down by the Ohio Supreme Court as simply unconstitutional and Republican lawmakers have been told to try again and to see if they are able to follow the law this time.
And that can’t really be interpreted as good news for Chabot, who held the 1st Headquarters of the congressional district for 25 of the past 27 years.
Eleven years ago, the last time the congressional district boundaries were drawn, it became apparent that Hamilton County was turning blue.
So the Republicans who controlled the Legislature then (and now) created a ridiculously Gerrymander district that I’ve always called the Steve Chabot Preservation Act of 2011. The map grafted Warren County, a very red spot, onto the district with an absurdly narrow land bridge and cut off a lot of those pesky Democratic voters in the city of Cincinnati and throughout Hamilton County.
The one that GOP lawmakers proposed last fall was even more bizarre; and, as difficult as it may seem, even more gerrymander to favor Chabot.
He kept Warren County tethered by the small land bridge for no apparent reason other than the fact that a lot of Republicans live there.
And, while it placed the entire city of Cincinnati in the Chabot District, it cut out much of north-central Hamilton County — a portion that includes Forest Park, Lincoln Heights, Springfield Township — and cornered him in Republican Congressman Warren Davidson’s district. . Davidson’s district encompasses Butler County, but the congressman himself is from Troy, about 70 miles north of Hamilton County on I-75.
Did I mention that there are approximately 30,000 black voters — almost all of them Democrats — who live in this part of Hamilton County who would effectively be disenfranchised when it comes to electing a congressman?
Well, it is.
And there was no possible reason for it other than to get those unrepentant black Democrats out of Steve Chabot’s hair. Nothing. If anyone can think of another reason, I’d love to hear it.
Fortunately, a 4-3 majority in the Ohio Supreme Court – three Democrats and Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican – put the kibosh on that plan and sent the legislature back to the drawing board, with instructed to follow the demands — demands, not suggestions, not “aspirational” goals — of the constitutional amendment passed by 7 out of 10 Ohio voters in 2015.
So assuming the Republicans follow the court’s instructions and don’t cause a constitutional crisis in Ohio, this 1st The congressional district is going to be very different.
First, Warren County will be gone. Likely pushed into the already heavily Republican district of U.S. Representative Brad Wenstrup. The entire city of Cincinnati – which preferred Joe Biden over Donald Trump in 2020 with 75% of the vote – will land in Chabot’s lap. We could see a narrow strip of eastern Hamilton County end up with Wenstrup, but the 1st The district would only contain Hamilton County and Hamilton County.
Did we mention Hamilton County is now a blue county? Yes, I guess we did.
In circumstances where they are likely to exist in the new 1st District, it is not unreasonable to think that Chabot, who turns 69 on Saturday (Happy Birthday Steve!), might decide that he has had enough and that sitting in the House for 25 of the last 27 years is pretty good.
Well, guess again.
By all accounts, Chabot is determined to run for office this year.
“I can tell you, without a doubt, Steve is committed to showing up this year no matter how the card goes,” said Washington, DC-based Chabot campaign adviser Jon Conradi.
Or as one of Chabot’s good friends in the district told me, “Steve’s attitude is that anyone who wants this job will have to go through me first.”
Currently, the only nominee announced on the Democratic side is Greg Landsman, a Cincinnati councilman.
Landsman set a new land speed record by announcing he would be racing for the 1st District headquarters the day after he was sworn in for a new term on the City Council. The ink was not even dry on his certificate as the designated successor at City Hall when he collapsed in the race for Congress.
It was quite an impressive entry. Landsman raised about $250,000 in his first week as a congressional candidate. This is the kind of thing that impresses the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which will no doubt target the 1st District as a potential takeover from red to blue in a year where control of the House is at stake.
Even so, it’s hard to imagine Landsman won’t have some kind of primal opposition. It’s too tempting a price for ambitious Democratic politicians.
Sean Comer, director of government relations at Xavier University, has experience in Democratic campaigns and is by no means certain that Landsman will have a clear path to the Democratic nomination.
“This new district won’t be a lock for Democrats, but it will certainly be a lot easier to win than it has been in recent cycles,” Comer said. “Just removing Warren County ensures that.”
Landsman has a good head start, Comer said, but he thinks others will jump in.
“It’s going to attract applicants,” Comer said. “People are going to start lining up.”
It would seem – for now, at least – that the deadline for submitting candidates is March 4, so there is still some time for potential Democratic candidates to catch up.
Mark R. Weaver, a longtime Republican campaign strategist based in Ohio, said he thinks there’s good news and bad news for Chabot in the fact that there will be a new 1st Neighborhood map.
“Chabot is going to go through a tough time this year, but I think in the end he’ll pull through,” said Weaver, who served as Wenstrup’s campaign adviser. “The other guy in this race, whoever he is, will have a hard time running with him.”
What Weaver means by that is that he thinks whoever winds up in the Democratic gubernatorial and U.S. Senate nominees this year won’t be strong enough to help the races down.
But Weaver also had a warning for Chabot.
“I think Chabot will have to retire after this term,” Weaver said. “The district is going to continue to get harder and harder for a Republican to win.”
Nonetheless, Chabot, the former LaSalle High School and William and Mary College football player, will likely get his head around and crash the line again this year, trying to wear the pigskin through the goal line.
The only difference is that there will be no Steve Chabot Preservation Act of 2022 for help. He is alone now.