By David Skolnick
Former state Rep. Jennifer Garrison met with top national Democratic officials in Washington, D.C., to discuss a 2014 bid for the 6th Congressional District seat.
“She’s taking a real serious look at the race and taking the steps needed” to make that decision, said Mark Riddle, Garrison’s senior adviser.
“She felt good about the meeting and is in the final stages of putting together an announcement.”
Garrison of Marietta was invited by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee met with national Democratic leaders, including DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, to discuss the district and ways to win the race, Riddle said.
“She left feeling very positive about their commitment,” Riddle said. “She has a strong record and [the DCCC] view her as a strong representative for the area.”
The DCCC recruits and raises money for Democrats seeking U.S. House seats.
Garrison was among only six potential House candidates nationwide, and the only one from Ohio, invited to the DCCC’s Jumpstart program, a national Democratic aide said. The program is primarily designed to help top-tier already-announced House candidates with financial and strategic support as well as putting them in contact with prominent Democrats and those who won close races in the 2012 election.
“She’s considered a strong potential challenger,” the aide said of Garrison.
Also, state Sen. Lou Gentile of Steubenville, D-30th, is seriously considering a 2014 run for the 18-county district, which includes all of Columbiana County and the southern portion of Mahoning County.
U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, a Republican from Marietta, is serving his second term in the district, which snakes along the Ohio River, after unseating Democrat Charlie Wilson in 2010 and defeating him in the 2012 rematch. Wilson died earlier this year.
Gentile said his focus now is on the state’s biennium budget, which must be approved by the state Legislature by June 30.
But he’s been talking to constituents, prominent officeholders in the district and financial supporters about a potential congressional run.
“People are urging and encouraging me to run,” he said. “I haven’t decided yet. My decision will largely be predicated on determining if I can win the district and provide the services the people of the district need.”
When asked about the DCCC, Gentile said he’s “more focused on those inside the district than outside the district.”
Gentile was elected to the Ohio House in 2010 and then appointed in late 2011 to the vacant 30th Ohio Senate District seat.
Gentile was the Republican’s No. 1 target last year in the state Senate. GOP organizations provided close to $1 million to Gentile’s Republican opponent. Gentile raised about $800,000, and won the race by 4.8 percentage points.
Gentile’s state Senate district includes 10 of the 6th Congressional District’s 18 counties.
Garrison served three terms in the Ohio House — the five counties in that state House district are all in the 6th — in a Republican-leaning district before deciding in 2010 to run for Ohio secretary of state.
She withdrew from the statewide race at the urging of state Democratic leadership after the party’s liberal faction and organized labor objected to her support of gun rights, and opposition to abortion and the Defense of Marriage Act.
After that, she opted to not seek a fourth term in the Ohio House.
Riddle said Garrison has “strong labor support,” “would be happy to run on her record” and “running statewide compared to running for Congress is very different.”
Since leaving politics, Garrison, an attorney, has focused on representing landowners who lease oil and gas rights with her clients receiving over $200 million, Riddle said.
Her law office is two doors down from Johnson’s congressional office in Marietta.
“Bill Johnson takes nothing for granted,” said Mark Weaver, his campaign spokesman, when asked about the potential Democratic challengers.
“He understands he has to make his case to the voters every two years. He’s proud of his record. Bill will have a respectful and rigorous debate” with whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee.