Canton Repository

November 5, 2006

Padgett, Space campaign in race to replace Ney

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

NEW PHILADELPHIA - With only days left until the election, the candidates who are campaigning to replace convicted Republican Rep. Bob Ney were trolling for votes in unlikely places.

Democrat Zack Space, the elected municipal attorney in Dover, never served in the armed forces. But last Wednesday, he sought to gain benefit from his family’s military background during a campaign event at a VFW Post in Zanesville.

“I will not forget the sacrifice, courage and commitment you made for our country,” he told a handful of veterans, noting that his Greek-born grandfather earned U.S. citizenship through his service in World War II.

A day later, his rival, Republican state Sen. Joy Padgett of Coshocton, was knocking on doors and handing out campaign brochures at a housing complex in Heath.

She hoped her personal appeals to voters would help her win one of the most closely watched congressional races in the nation.

“Oh, Joy Padgett,” exclaimed Bryan Stephens, opening the door with his 1-year old daughter, Takiesha, cradled in his arms.

“Are you planning to vote?” she asked, shaking hands with him and the baby. “I like to put names and faces together.”

The unusual race to succeed Ney, who resigned his seat Friday, has drawn more than $5 million in spending from party organizations alone, who view it as crucial to whether Republicans retain control of the House or yield power to Democrats.

Among a handful of Republican-held seats in Ohio that are vulnerable to Democratic capture this year, the open seat in the sprawling 18th District is considered the most likely to fall into opposition hands. The 16-county district stretches from Carroll and Tuscarawas counties south and west to Ross and Jackson counties, including cities such as Zanesville, Chillicothe and part of Newark.

As even Padgett concedes, Space has been leading in the polls. In a typical year, a Republican congressional candidate would be heavily favored to win in the socially conservative, GOP-leaning district.

But Ney’s admission more than seven weeks ago that he accepted free meals and drinks, trips, tickets to sporting events and campaign contributions from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff in return for using his official position to do legislative favors for him has soured many voters on the GOP.

Ney is awaiting sentencing and is expected to serve at least two years in prison for the felony conviction.

The Space-Padgett contest has been a high priority for both parties.

The National Republican Congressional Committee plowed $3.2 million into the race on behalf of Padgett before yanking its advertising for her in the expensive Cleveland television market last week.

Space has benefited from $1.8 million in advertising by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The parties also have sent in their heavy hitters, including first lady Laura Bush to campaign for Padgett, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., to make a pitch for Space.

“Our country is in trouble and Americans rightly believe we are on the wrong track,” Hoyer told veterans at the Space event.

When it was his turn to speak, Space, 53, pledged to fight for more generous health care and increased benefits for veterans and their families.

“The theme of this campaign from the beginning has been that Washington, D.C., is broken,” he said. “Your interests will be placed above those of special interests and lobbyists.”

Padgett, 59, has stressed her ability to serve the district, noting her experience as a state legislator and former director of the governor’s Office of Appalachia.

She views jobs and economic development as the most important issue.

But she complains that since winning a special Sept. 14 election to replace Ney on the ballot, her campaign message has been overshadowed by controversy over the 2005 bankruptcy of an office supply business owned by her and her husband, Don.

“The bankruptcy has become the sole issue,” she told reporters after fielding questions from high school students in Berlin last week.

Padgett said she has begun repaying her debts, including a $737,000 government loan on which she defaulted.

Space has used the bankruptcy to link Padgett and Ney, whom he characterized as “two peas in a pod” who are “experts at fleecing taxpayers.”

Ney asked Padgett to run for Congress when he withdrew his re-election bid. But Padgett points out that she demanded Ney resign or be expelled from the House when he pleaded guilty. Padgett accuses Space of avoiding debates to hide his “liberal” views from voters.

In response, Space says he has attended several candidate forums with Padgett but had a conflict that prevented him from going to a proposed televised debate Thursday.

While in agreement in their opposition to gun control, the candidates differ on the Iraq war, tax cuts and other issues. Space favors a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq, while Padgett views the conflict as part of the war on terror.

Padgett backs the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003, while Space says they favored the rich.

Padgett opposes abortion and federal support for embryonic stem cell research, while Space favors stem cell research and the right to an abortion.

Jerry and Myra Deuker, Tuscarawas residents who said they were fed up with politicians from both parties, mentioned Padgett’s bankruptcy as a factor in their plans to vote for Space.

“I find it hard to support a candidate who can’t handle (her) own affairs,” said Myra, a Democrat.

Jerry, a Republican, said he was leaning toward Space “because he’s more local.”

Millersburg businessman Bill Baker, a Republican, said he planned to vote for Padgett and wasn’t holding the bankruptcy against her.

“She did such a great job as (state) representative; she was here all the time,” he said. Baker called her bankruptcy “unfortunate,” but he added that he’s in business “and I know that happens.”