The inclusion of the two independent candidates in the race could boost the chances of the district's electing a Republican, the experts say.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
WARREN -- The independent candidacies of U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. and a regional labor leader spell trouble for the Democratic nominee in the November general election for the 17th Congressional District seat, two political experts say.
Traficant, of Poland, a nine-term congressman convicted last month on 10 felony counts including racketeering and bribery, and Warren Davis of Bay Village, regional director of the United Auto Workers, filed nominating petitions Monday to run as independent candidates in the Nov. 5 general election.
They will face state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin of Aurora, the Republican nominee, and the winner of today's six-person Democratic primary, which includes U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer of Akron, state Sen. Timothy J. Ryan of Niles, and state Rep. Anthony A. Latell Jr. of Girard.
Traficant, who turns 61 Wednesday, and Davis, 65, will attract Democratic voters, which will be bad news for the Democratic nominee and good news for Womer Benjamin, said William Binning, chairman of Youngstown State University's political science department, and John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. Green and Binning expect Sawyer to win today's primary.
Would take Dem votes
Green does not expect Traficant or Davis to win the general election, but combined, he said, they should grab about 25 percent to 30 percent of the vote in November. Most, if not all, of that vote would be Democratic, he said.
"It would make it possible for Ann Womer Benjamin to win with just a plurality rather than a majority," Green said. "Davis and Traficant would break up the Democratic vote and make the Republican stronger."
If Womer Benjamin ran a "terrific campaign," she could expect to get somewhere in the mid-30 percent range of the vote in the overwhelmingly Democratic congressional district, Green said.
"If the other candidates are splitting up the Democratic vote, 35 percent could win," Green said.
Binning said having Davis and Traficant in the race suddenly makes Womer Benjamin a serious threat to win.
Womer Benjamin said the addition of the two candidates "will only heighten the contrasts among us and allow the issues to be more thoroughly debated. ...The entrance of these challengers is indicative of the wide variety of viewpoints held by the people of the 17th Congressional District."
Possibility of victory
Although Green doesn't see Davis or Traficant winning the general election, Binning said he thinks either of them could emerge victorious, but only if Davis is able to run an effective campaign attacking the record of Sawyer, assuming the Akron congressman wins the primary, Binning said.
"It could be a legitimate four-person race if Warren Davis is able to generate money and interest," he said. "The only way Womer Benjamin or Traficant can show is if Sawyer gets knocked down some, and the only person who could do that effectively is Davis. He has a message and can appeal to voters who would normally vote for Sawyer."
If Davis cannot mount an effective campaign, it would in all likelihood mean a Democratic victory in November, Binning said.
Traficant and Davis had to submit nominating petitions with at least 1,776 valid signatures. Traficant's petitions had 3,724 signatures and Davis' petitions had 2,908 signatures.
The Trumbull County Board of Elections has to examine the petitions to see if there are enough valid signatures. The board does not have to certify the validity of the petitions until mid-July under state law, and will probably wait until about that time to do so, said Norma Williams, elections board director.
The Democratic candidates are the only ones who live in the new 17th Congressional District.
Traficant lives in the village of Poland, about a mile or two from the 17th District. Davis lives in Bay Village, which is in northwestern Cuyahoga County and more than an hour's drive to the Mahoning Valley. Womer Benjamin lives in Aurora, about four miles from the 17th District line. State law allows congressional candidates to run for any district seat as long as they are residents of Ohio.
Residency may be an issue with Traficant, who is to be sentenced June 27. If he wins the election and serves his sentence at a federal penitentiary outside of Ohio, there is a question as to whether he would fill the state's residency requirement.
Davis has served as director of UAW's Region 2 in Cleveland since May 1983, and has been active in the union for more than four decades. The region covers 36 counties in northeast Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania.
The only other person filing as an independent for any race in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties is the Rev. Werner Lange of Newton Falls, who filed last week to run in the 65th Ohio House District.