The congressman said Traficant's bid as an independent changes the race's dynamic.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
WARREN -- U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer says U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. may have made the wrong political decision to bypass the Democratic primary for the 17th Congressional District and instead run as an independent.
"He might have benefited from a crowded primary," Sawyer said. "He has been the benefactor of that in the past. He has enjoyed tremendous support in the past."
Sawyer, an eight-term congressman, is seeking re-election in the new 17th Congressional District. The district will include northeast Mahoning County, all but seven northern townships in Trumbull County, most of Portage County and a portion of Summit County.
Sawyer faces six challengers, all from Mahoning or Trumbull counties, in the May 7 Democratic primary.
Traficant, a nine-term Democratic congressman from Poland, says he is running as an independent. Traficant said he is not running as a Democrat because his ongoing federal trial on charges including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion does not permit him enough time to campaign before the primary.
Not writing him off: Sawyer wouldn't say that Traficant would have done better had he run as a Democrat, but he is not writing Traficant off politically just because of the independent bid.
"It does change the dynamic of the race in the fall," Sawyer said.
The winner of the Democratic primary will face state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, an Aurora Republican, and anyone who files as an independent candidate by the May 6 deadline in the November general election.
"It's going to be an exciting race and it will be among the most interesting in the country by the time the year is out," Sawyer said.
Sawyer said the Traficant independent bid is more in line with the maverick congressman's political philosophy.
"Jim is going through a very tough time now, and it's not just his legal issues," Sawyer said. "He is trying to redefine himself politically. He takes part in neither caucus. He may best define himself as an independent, which is what he has become."
View on challengers: When asked about who he sees as the top challengers in the Democratic primary, Sawyer said it was too early to say. But he said the obvious choices are the two elected officials in the race, state Rep. Anthony A. Latell Jr. of Girard and state Sen. Timothy J. Ryan of Niles.
Sawyer visited Warren on Friday at the invitation of Michael D. Keys, Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp.'s executive director. This was Sawyer's third visit to Trumbull County in recent weeks.
Keys took Sawyer to Warren G. Harding High School, the county courthouse, stores in the city's downtown area and industrial sites.
Sawyer said Warren has tremendous potential for economic opportunities, and if he is elected to represent the city, he will do what he can to make sure those opportunities are realized.
"Trumbull County, in general raw political terms, will become the center of gravity in the 17th," he said. "It has the right to expect as much representation as any other place in the 17th District."