November 6, 2002
Traficant doesn’t keep Ryan from winning 17th race
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON — If he drew enough votes while campaigning from his prison cell in Pennsylvania, could former Rep. Jim Traficant
have prevented a fellow Democrat from succeeding him in Ohio’s 17th Congressional District?
That question consumed political professionals and observers during a hard-fought race to succeed Traficant in the heavily
The answer came Tuesday night as the latest available vote counts showed Democratic state Sen. Tim Ryan comfortably ahead of
Republican state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin.
Pundits had speculated that if Traficant, a Democrat turned convicted felon, drew more than 20 percent of the vote, he could siphon enough support from Ryan for Womer Benjamin to win.
That scenario never played out Tuesday night. With more than 90 percent of the vote in, Ryan had 51 percent; Womer Benjamin
had 34 percent. And Traficant, campaigning as an independent, had 15 percent.
“The biggest obstacle was that he couldn’t campaign,” Tish Traficant, the former congressman’s wife, said Tuesday night. “Other people had to do it for him.”
Traficant, 61, was in his ninth term when he was expelled from the House in July after being convicted of bribery and racketeering.
He is serving an eight-year sentence at a federal prison in central Pennsylvania.
He hoped to become the first imprisoned felon elected to Congress.
With the threat posed by Traficant, Republicans saw an unusual, long-shot opportunity to pick up a seat to help preserve the party’s
narrow majority in the House. The National Republican Congressional Committee poured money and advice into Womer Benjamin’s campaign.
“We don’t get involved in any race that doesn’t look promising to us,” NRCC spokeswoman Lea Anne McBride said.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee offered similar help to Ryan, 29.
William Binning, a political science professor at Youngstown State University, had predicted before the balloting that Traficant would
get 15 percent of the vote — quite good for an independent, especially one campaigning from a jail cell in another state.
The newly redrawn district stretches from Akron to Youngstown and the Pennsylvania state line. The district is even more
Democratic than in its previous form.
Traficant’s campaign ran television ads in the last week before the election, including a spot that was taped with him in it before he
went to prison.
Toward the end of his 17-year tenure in Congress, Traficant became estranged from his party’s leadership and helped elect
Republican Dennis Hastert as House speaker.
In what might have been the political equivalent of friendly fire on the battlefield, Womer Benjamin, 48, may have been hurt by a
television ad launched in the final days of the campaign by the Ohio Republican Party. The spot, opening with a shot of the
devastated World Trade Center, linked the Sept. 11 attack to Ryan’s positions on national security and defense spending.
Kim Rubey, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called the ad “offensive” and said it would
John C. Green, a political science professor at University of Akron, said the ad, which proved to be controversial, was risky, but in a
close race it could have drawn enough support away from Ryan to help Womer Benjamin win.