Only one Democratic challenger can match the political experience of Rep. Sawyer.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Six of the seven Democrats in the 17th Congressional District race are from the Mahoning Valley, which one political expert says is great news for the candidate not from the area.
That candidate is U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer, an Akron Democrat seeking his ninth term in Congress.
"The more congressional candidates from the Valley, the more likely [Sawyer] will win the nomination," said John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. "Sawyer may not get a majority, but he'll get a plurality."
Sawyer's opponents in the May 7 election run the gamut from state Rep. Anthony A. Latell Jr. of Girard, a longtime politician, to state Sen. Timothy J. Ryan of Warren, who has 14 months of elected political experience, to Randy Walter of Canfield and Joe Louis Teague of Youngstown, who have mounted failed political campaigns in the past, to Maridee L. Costanzo of Warren and Bryan Taafe of Austintown, who haven't sought political office before.
The filing deadline for the primary was Thursday.
The new 17th District includes northeast Mahoning County, all but seven northern townships in Trumbull County, most of Portage County, and a section of Summit County. Mahoning and Trumbull make up 58 percent of the district's residents.
Prediction: "Ryan and Latell will divide the Mahoning Valley vote, and the less experienced candidates will take some of the Valley vote," Green said.
That leaves Portage and Summit counties firmly in the hands of Sawyer, Green said.
Ryan says he is not concerned that he and Latell will split Trumbull County, adding that Mahoning, Portage and Summit are winnable.
Latell continues to be upset that Ryan got into the race, saying the state senator is too inexperienced to run for Congress.
"The measure of success is based upon a senator's ability to initiate specific legislation, get it through and out of committee and have it accepted by the Senate in full," Latell said. "Based upon this, the young man hasn't yet proved either his worth or his ability."
Costanzo said she will stop practicing law to focus on her congressional run.
"I'm frightened, but I'm excited," she said. "This is the federal level. This is as big as it gets."
From the GOP: On the Republican side, state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin of Aurora and John S. Keytack of Warren were the only ones to file. Keytack was going to pull out of the race Thursday. But because of a family illness, he did not withdraw Thursday and was to do so today. Keytack is supporting Womer Benjamin, who will have no competition for her party's nomination.
"I have proven I have lawmaking ability," Womer Benjamin said.
Traficant: U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., a Poland Democrat, says he will run as an independent candidate in the 17th District. Traficant, a nine-term congressman, said he is too busy with his federal trial on charges including bribery and racketeering to concentrate on a primary.
The filing deadline for independent candidates is May 6, the day before the primary.
A November general election with Sawyer, Womer Benjamin and Traficant as candidates would be a tight race, Green said.
"If Traficant was in the mix with his strong core group of supporters, he could eke out a narrow win," Green said. "It's hard to predict the outcome of that race. Sawyer could win by a few percentage points, and you can't count out the Republican candidate."
If it were just Sawyer and Womer Benjamin, the Democrat should win based on the fact that voter registration in the district is heavily in favor of that party, Green said.
6th District: In the new 6th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Lucasville Democrat seeking his fifth term in Congress, is the heavy favorite to win, Green said.
He will be challenged in the Democratic primary by Lou D'Apolito of Boardman, who received 4 percent of the vote when he ran in 2000 as an independent candidate for the 17th District seat, and Charles Brown of Yorkville, who has never run for public office before.
The Republican primary is expected to be competitive between former U.S. Rep. Lyle Williams of Lordstown and former Columbiana County Commissioner Michael Halleck of Salem. Halleck plans to take a leave of absence from his job as transportation coordinator and administrator for the Ohio Department of Transportation Region 4 to run for Congress.
Halleck was undecided about a run up until Thursday, the filing deadline.
U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette of Madison was the only Republican to file for the 14th Congressional District seat, which includes seven northern townships in Trumbull. The only Democrat to file was Dale Blanchard of Solon. LaTourette soundly defeated Blanchard in the 2000 election for the post.