By David Skolnick
The filing deadline for primary candidates is Feb. 18. Independents have until May 3.
YOUNGSTOWN — In the three races after capturing the 17th Congressional District seat in 2002, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan hasn’t had a contested Democratic primary and faced only token Republican opposition in the general election.
But that all changes next year.
For the first time as an incumbent, Ryan, of Niles, is expected to face a challenge in the Democratic primary in May. Also, there are two Republicans planning to run for that party’s nomination with the winner facing Ryan in the November 2010 general election.
The filing deadline for primary candidates is Feb. 18. Those running as independents have until May 3, the day before the primary, to file.
Of course, there’s the possibility that ex-U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., who’s considering a run next year for Congress, also could challenge Ryan, who used to be a Traficant staff member. Traficant is considering running as a Democrat in the 17th, 6th or 16th District.
Does this mean Ryan — who considered running for the U.S. Senate and lieutenant governor earlier this year before deciding to seek another two-year term in the U.S. House — will have a fight on his hands in 2010 to get re-elected?
“The number of challengers isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness” for Ryan, said William Binning, chairman of the Youngstown State University political science department. “There’s a weakening of the Democratic Party at the national level. But he’s in no danger of losing.”
The heavily Democratic 17th District includes portions of Mahoning, Trumbull, Portage and Summit counties. About two-thirds of the district’s voters are in Mahoning and Trumbull.
“It’s impossible for a Republican to win that district,” Binning said. “Miracles happen, but I don’t see that happening here.”
Mahoning County Republican Party Vice Chairman Mark Munroe said: “There’s no doubt that any Republican running in the 17th District has a real challenge on his hands. Based on [voter] registration figures, it’s a tough, tough district to run in. But given the right political environment and the right candidates and issues, a Republican can win.”
Ryan doesn’t seem too concerned by his opponents.
“People have the right to run, and I welcome the opportunity to put my accomplishments and record up against any and all opponents,” Ryan said in a prepared statement. “Like in the past, we will run an aggressive, grass-roots campaign, and I have the utmost confidence that the people of the 17th District will re-elect me.”
Dan Moadus, a former eight-year Girard City Council member, will challenge Ryan in next year’s Democratic primary.
Though Moadus won four races for council’s 4th Ward seat, his election record in his hometown is less than stellar. Moadus has lost 11 other Girard elections, including at-large council last year and mayor two years ago.
“Tim’s a nice guy, but he’s so far out of touch” with the electorate, Moadus said. “Tim Ryan is tied into the radical leadership of the [Democratic] party.”
Moadus pointed to Ryan’s votes to support the cap-and-trade bill that addresses climate-change issues, and a national health-care bill, which he says will hurt those in the 17th District.
Moadus said it would take $50,000 to beat Ryan in next year’s primary.
Binning said a legitimate challenger would need $1 million to beat Ryan.
Ryan typically raises about $1 million each election cycle. As of Sept. 30, the most recent filing deadline, Ryan’s congressional campaign fund had $286,407 in cash on hand.
Diane T. diCarlo Murphy of Youngstown, a schoolteacher who lost a congressional race in 2004 to Ted Strickland in the 6th District, told The Vindicator a few months ago that she would be running in the Democratic primary next year against Ryan. She couldn’t be reached to confirm whether she’s still interested.
On the Republican side, Dr. M.E. “Bing” Henderson of Tallmadge filed the necessary paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to be a candidate for this congressional seat.
Also, Bill Johnson of Poland, a businessman and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, has established an exploratory committee for a potential run as a Republican.
He’ll decide by next month, but said: “If the positive response continues, I’ll be running. It’s very, very likely I will run.”
Johnson said Ryan has supported bills — specifically cap-and-trade and the economic stimulus package — that make him “vulnerable.”
But “people are fed up with politics as usual. Regardless of party, incumbents are at risk,” Johnson said.
Johnson and Henderson have never run for political office.
Henderson, an occupational medicine and family physician, said he’s become “increasingly frustrated” with Ryan and other Democrats in Congress over the past year. He said that’s based on votes that “gradually erode personal freedoms with health care, a new movement to increase eminent domain, pro-life losing more ground and free enterprise.”