Canton Repository

December 17, 2006

Democrats claim Regula vulnerable

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula’s diminished showing in his Nov. 7 re-election victory has emboldened at least one potential rival who already is looking ahead to 2008.

In an unusually early declaration, attorney and Army veteran Michael D. Todd, a Democrat, filed papers with the Federal Election Commission to run for the 16th Congressional District.

For decades, Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, has won re-election by wide margins in his Republican-leaning district. But last month, he won an 18th term with 59 percent of votes cast. That’s still a comfortable margin but 8 points down from the 67 percent he drew two years ago.

The weaker showing came against a first-time candidate, the Rev. Tom Shaw, a Methodist minister from Wooster, who raised no campaign funds for his bid.

Democratic campaign analysts believe Regula may be vulnerable because of his long tenure in office, Democratic gains in the last election and his age.

He has served in Congress since 1973 and is 82. The next session of Congress will mark his first time as a member of the minority since Republicans captured control of Congress in 1994.

Others caution against underestimating Regula’s strength two years from now.

WILL THE ELECTORATE’S MOOD LAST?

Stephen Brooks, acting director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at University of Akron, doubts Regula will be vulnerable in 2008 “unless the mood of the electorate stays the same” as it is this year, he said.

He views the 2006 election as an unusual one in which Ohio Republicans were hurt by a number of factors including corruption scandals in Columbus and Washington, D.C.

Regula has said it’s too early for him to talk about whether he’ll seek re-election in 2008.

Political analysts say if Regula does not run again, it could spark a free-for-all among congressional hopefuls from both parties.

Should Regula step aside, it would clear the way for Republican candidates who are almost certain not to challenge Regula, such as state Sen. J. Kirk Schuring of Jackson Township and state Rep. Scott Oelslager of North Canton.

Outgoing Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula, the congressman’s son, is another possibility.

Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller, who turned in a surprisingly strong showing against Regula in the Republican primary, could take another shot even if Regula seeks re-election.

Potential Democratic candidates include state Sen.-elect John Boccieri of New Middletown; Ohio 5th District Court of Appeals Judge W. Scott Gwin of Canton and Stark County Democratic Party Chairman Johnnie A. Maier Jr.

Even though Boccieri lives outside the 16th District, he said that he has been approached about the possibility of running for that seat in 2008. He said he has not ruled out a bid for Congress.

Then there’s Todd, who already is running.

Forcing the talk

Todd, a first-term Medina Township trustee, believes Regula is vulnerable.

But he said his primary motivations for running are to press for a withdrawal from Iraq and serve as an advocate for middle-class voters.

Todd, 32, filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission last month. He said he plans to engage in dialogue with voters over the next two years.

“I want this to be a constant conversation,” said Todd, a Virginia native who secured admission to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point after enlisting in the Army. “I want to give them (constituents) two years to digest everything that we put out there.”

THE STARK COUNTY HOLD

At least one Democratic leader is skeptical of Todd’s bid.

Maier, the Stark County Democratic chairman, said he’s never been contacted by Todd, though the majority of Democratic voters in the district live in Stark County.

“I think I would be making sure I contacted the county with the largest population and most Democrats,” Maier said. “I don’t know Michael Todd.”

Regula blames his loss of support in the last election on voter unhappiness with the Iraq war and an anti-Republican wave of discontent that swept Democrats into control of both the House and Senate.

“Nobody ever expressed unhappiness with what I’ve done,” Regula said.

Fellow Republicans agree with Regula’s reasoning. Democrats think there is a chance that the threat of a tough race could push Regula into retirement. And even if he runs again, they do not rule out a Democratic upset of the incumbent.

Sarah Feinberg, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the party believes that a strong performance from incoming Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, Rep.-elect Zack Space of Dover and other Democratic lawmakers from Ohio will improve Democratic prospects of winning more races in the Buckeye State in two years.

She said the party is taking a “close look” at Regula’s district.

“He’s already been around for a long time,” she said, and “2006 was a year of change in Ohio and I expect 2008 to be a year of change.”

Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, argues that Regula’s capture of 59 percent of the vote was an “overwhelming victory” during a “horrible year” for Republicans.

“You’re going to see a lot of people misread the election results from this cycle and think they have a shot when they don’t,” he said.