Times Reporter

December 3, 2006

Space faces tougher road than hero JFK

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON – Rep.-elect Zack Space says he is thrilled to be moving into the same Capitol Hill office that his political hero, John F. Kennedy, occupied when he began his political career in Congress.

“Hopefully some of that energy and optimism that he brought when he got into public service will rub off on us and serve as an inspiration to me in Congress,” said the Dover Democrat, who is succeeding convicted ex-Rep. Bob Ney, a Republican.

But Space’s choice of quarters on the third floor of the Cannon House Office Building also brings to mind a notable difference in the political realities faced by Space and Kennedy, who was elected to the House 60 years ago.

Kennedy came to Congress representing an overwhelmingly Democratic district in Massachusetts, in which he easily won re-election twice before moving to the Senate and then the presidency.

Space, however, will represent a district that has leaned strongly Republican since its boundaries were redrawn by GOP leaders in 2001.

The political neophyte was assisted in his win by Ney’s conviction on corruption charges, a state GOP scandal and a wave of voter discontent that swept Democrats into control of the House and Senate.

The Ohio Republican Party already has targeted Space for defeat in 2008. Political observers view him as among half a dozen of the most vulnerable newly-elected Democrats who will face re-election in two years.

“I am not at all worried about that talk,” Space said in a phone interview last week. He was attending a three-day congressional preparation program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

“What I’m interested in and I think what the people of my district are interested in is to see what kind of job I do,” he said.

He figures if he works hard, is honest with his constituents, stands up for working families and remembers why he is in Congress, the “re-election campaign will take care of itself.”

In preparation for his swearing in Jan. 4, Space is hiring up to 18 full-time staff members to be spread among his Washington office and three or four constituent service offices in the Dover-New Philadelphia area and other locations in the 18th District.

He’ll return to Washington on Tuesday for two days of Democrat-only briefings on the economy and foreign policy.

Space, 45, is likely to benefit from some early help from Democratic House leaders anticipating his presumed re-election bid. It could come in the form of a choice committee assignment, the chance to introduce a significant piece of legislation or other responsibilities that would strengthen his hand against a GOP opponent, political observers say.

He is seeking a seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the more powerful committees that are typically beyond the reach of freshmen lawmakers. His second choice is the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which doles out a lot of federal money for local projects.

Space notes that outgoing Reps. Sherrod Brown, D-Avon, and Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon, served on Energy and Commerce. He’s making the case that one of those vacancies should go to another Ohio Democrat.

The committee also would give Space a platform to work on alternative energy legislation, one of his priorities.

John C. Fortier, an expert on Congress at the American Enterprise Institute, said getting a slot on Energy and Commerce or another committee that moves key legislation affecting business would give Space an advantage in raising campaign contributions to defend against a Republican challenge.

After campaigning on the theme of cleaning up Washington, Space also has asked to sponsor part of the ethics package that Democratic leaders plan to introduce early next year.

Space said he hasn’t received any promises from Democratic leaders.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declined to comment on whether Space would be allowed to introduce an ethics bill, except to say the decision likely hasn’t been made.

Hammill said when it comes to committee assignments, the competitiveness of a lawmaker’s district is one factor that is considered, along with merit and a desire for diversity on the panels.

Political observers say while Space is vulnerable, it would be premature to assume he is a one-termer.

“I think he can survive,” said William Binning, chairman of the political science department at Youngstown State University. “He has to be skillful in the way he goes about presenting himself.”

Binning, who also has a part-time job as regional liaison for Republican Gov. Bob Taft, believes Space would be best served by demonstrating a certain degree of independence from the Democratic Party and showing “he has the district’s interests at heart.”

Fortier said Space can benefit from a “government reformer-type” image.

Space already is focused on one of the most vital factors in re-election – solving constituents’ problems.

“We want to create a real strong constituent service system,” he said, noting that he may assign more staff to his district offices in Ohio than to Washington.

“Say what you will about Bob Ney, I think he was well known for his strong constituent services. We’re hoping to meet or exceed that which he put into play.”