By David Skolnick
A congressional redistricting plan makes the 6th District more friendly to Republican Bill Johnson in the 2012 election, but two former House members, both Democrats defeated in 2010, are pondering challenges to the first-term congressman.
Ex-U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson of St. Clairsville, who lost to Johnson in last year’s 6th District race, left Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, after a few days meeting with Democratic officials there about a potential 2012 rematch.
Wilson told The Vindicator on Wednesday that he is giving serious consideration to running for the seat.
Before deciding, Wilson said he’s going to have a poll conducted to see if he can beat Johnson next year.
“I’m just doing my homework,” he said. “I’m looking at it to see if [I can win].
Also, ex-U.S. Rep. John Boccieri, a Democrat from Alliance, who was defeated last year in the 16th District after serving one term in the House, said: “I’m looking at all my options. I’d like to run for Congress again.”
Boccieri said he’ll look at the 6th as well as other districts. The new 6th has more Democrats than other Republican-held congressional districts in Northeast Ohio.
The redrawing of congressional boundaries by Ohio Republican officials likely is to be approved shortly by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich.
The state is losing two of its 18 House seats in the 2012 election because the state’s population didn’t grow as fast as the rest of the nation’s.
The 6th is the longest congressional district in the state stretching for about 325 miles from suburban and rural Mahoning County to Lucasville in Scioto County along Ohio’s eastern and southern borders.
It goes through eight full counties, including Columbiana, its most populous county, and four partial counties.
The new plan, which takes effect with the 2012 election, has the district go through 14 full counties and parts of four others.
Columbiana remains the district’s most populous county, but some portions of Mahoning County are out of the new 6th.
They include Boardman, the most-populated community in the current 6th with 42,518 residents, as well as the village of Poland, the townships of Milton and Jackson, and a tiny portion of Austintown.
The addition of more rural and conservative areas such as Harrison, Guernsey, Jackson and Muskingum counties turns the district from slightly Democratic to leaning Republican.
“I am pleased that it looks like I’ll have the opportunity and the good fortune to continue representing most of those Ohioans that I currently do,” said Johnson, of Marietta, who lived in Poland until earlier this year. I’m “also looking forward to getting to meet some of our neighbors to the west.”
Johnson beat Wilson 50.2 percent to 45.2 percent last year. Two minor-party candidates received the rest of the votes.
Wilson also said he likes the make-up of the current district, which includes counties he represented in Congress as well as others he represented during his 10 years in the state Legislature.
Both he and Boccieri said they were surprised that Republicans largely kept the 6th District intact.
Boccieri served eight years in the state Legislature, primarily representing Mahoning County though he also represented Carroll County and a portion of Tuscarawas County during that time. Carroll and a portion of Tuscarawas are in the new 6th.
Boccieri won the 2008 race for the 16th Congressional District, west of Mahoning County and a seat held for decades by Republicans.
Boccieri lost his re-election effort last year to Republican Jim Renacci. Renacci received 52.1 percent to Boccieri’s 41.3 percent. A minor-party candidate received the rest of the votes.
After winning the Democratic primary in 2008 for the 16th Congressional District, Boccieri moved from New Middletown to Alliance. The latter is in the new 13th — what would be represented by Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Niles — while New Middletown isn’t.
But New Middletown is in the current and new 6th District.
Boccieri said there’s “no question about it” that Republicans purposely put Alliance in Ryan’s district to discourage him from running. Boccieri added that Republicans drew an “extremely partisan” map.
Despite the redistricting plan making the 6th lean Republican, Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras said a Democrat, particularly Wilson and Boccieri, can win the district.
“I don’t think Bill Johnson’s far-right views represent the residents of the district,” Betras said.
Columbiana County Republican Party Chairman Dave Johnson said he’d welcome Boccieri or Wilson to the race as they are “both high-tax liberals who support wasteful government spending.”