A challenger emerging in 6th District

On the side

Local challenge? John Kasich may have a challenger from the Mahoning Valley in the 2014 Republican primary for governor or maybe it will be Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel or perhaps it won’t be either.

Aaron McCord of Liberty, who describes himself as an “openly gay African-Irish-American Republican,” who is “well-connected in the Mahoning Valley and the country,” told me he plans to run for governor next year.

McCord contends his “family is very wealthy and powerful.” When I asked him to explain, he said they own 120 acres of real estate with about 100 acres unused in LaGrange, Ga., and his family business is to buy and sell scrap metal.

In February, he returned to the Valley, where he was born and raised, after spending nearly a decade in Georgia. .

McCord, who’s never run for political office, said he figured running for governor was a good place to start. But when we talked about other offices up for election next year, McCord expressed interest in state treasurer and the U.S. House of Representatives.

State Sen. Lou Gentile has quickly emerged as the Democratic Party’s leading candidate for the 6th Congressional District seat.

The election isn’t until next year, but Democrats are focused on the 18-county district — which includes all of Columbiana County and the southern portion of Mahoning County — and are urging Gentile of Steubenville, who’s serving his first term in the state Senate, to challenge two-term U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, a Republican from Marietta.

“A lot of people have been coming to me in the district asking me to seriously consider Congress,” Gentile said. “Some are constituents and others hold key political roles or are financial supporters. I’m flattered and honored to be asked.”

Gentile isn’t ready to make a decision saying his focus right now is on the state’s biennium budget, which must be approved by the state Legislature by June 30.

He doesn’t have a timetable for making a decision on a congressional run, but Gentile acknowledges that “it’s something I’ve got to consider. My main interest is to serve eastern and southeastern Ohio.”

Gentile got his start in politics in early 2002 driving then-U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Democrat, around his new 6th Congressional District, particularly Jefferson and Belmont counties. I spent a day with Strickland and Gentile during that campaign, and the latter seemed to know everyone we met in those two counties.

Gentile also drove Strickland around the state when Strickland successfully ran for governor in 2006.

Gentile spent about three years as assistant director of the governor’s office of Appalachia before being elected to an Ohio House seat in 2010. When the 30th Senate District seat opened in late 2011 after Jason Wilson, a fellow Democrat, resigned, Senate Democrats selected Gentile to fill the vacancy.

Gentile’s elected experience is limited, but before Johnson beat then-incumbent U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, a Democrat who recently passed away, in 2010, the Republican had never run for elected office. Johnson also beat Wilson last year in a rematch. Because of redistricting the 6th leans Republican. It leaned Democratic before last year’s election.

Gentile was the Republican’s No. 1 target last year in the state Senate. The Republican Senate Campaign Committee and the Ohio Republican State Central and Executive Committee contributed about $1 million to the campaign of Republican Shane Thompson of St. Clairsville to beat Gentile. Gentile raised about $800,000, and won the race by 4.8 percentage points.

In the 10 counties that make up the 30th District, Gentile won five of them. In comparison, President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, both Democrats, won one and three, respectively, of the 30th’s 10 counties. Unlike Gentile, Obama and Brown lost in the 30th Senate District, which runs along the eastern and southeastern part of the state and is a conservative-leaning area.

All or portions of nine of that Senate district’s 10 counties are in the 18-county 6th Congressional District. If Gentile decides to run for Congress next year — and he can seek the position without giving up his state seat — he will be a formidable foe for Johnson.

Subscribe Today

Sign up for our email newsletter to receive daily news.

Want more? Click here to subscribe to either the Print or Digital Editions.