In shaping their general-election campaigns, winners of Tuesday’s primary elections for the U.S. House of Representatives would be wise to consider findings of a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll on American attitudes toward politicians.
In the Mahoning Valley, spliced among three congressional districts, those winners are six-term Democrat incumbent Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th; Democrat Jennifer Garrison of Marietta in the 6th Congressional District; and one-term Republican incumbent David Joyce in the 14th District. All three were strongly endorsed by The Vindicator for the May primary, but two of them now face formidable challenges in their quest to gain or retain seats in the Capitol for the 2015-16 term.
Of the three candidates, Ryan faces the fewest obstacles to assured clear victory Nov. 4. In his 12 years as the congressional representative for the bulk of the Mahoning Valley, he has acquired a record of leadership and service, considerable respect and power among Capitol Hill peers and instant and easy name recognition among most of his 716,000 constituents.
History also is clearly on Ryan’s side. Valley voters tend to stick like glue to their incumbents. Over the past 75 years, they have elected only five individuals to the U.S. House, including the venerated Democrat Michael Kirwan from 1937 to 1970 and the not-so-venerated James Traficant from 1985 to 2002.
More importantly, however, Ryan faces only token opposition in the fall. Republican Thomas Pekarek, who lives outside the 13th District in Cleveland, has unsuccessfully run for Congress three times. It is unfortunate for the health of our two-party system that Republican leaders could not have fielded a more viable challenger from within the district.
We would warn Ryan, however, to not take his re-election for granted. After all, the Post/ABC poll found only 22 percent of Americans who plan to re-elect their representative. In addition, off-year congressional elections universally favor the party out of White House control.
TOUGH RACE IN 6TH
Because of that automatic bump, two-term Republican Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, may hold a slight edge over Jennifer Garrison, who won the Democratic primary handily Tuesday, garnering 73 percent of the vote in the 18-county district over challenger Greg Howard.
Working in her favor in the relatively conservative district, however, are Garrison’s staunch opposition to the Affordable Care Act and her other bedrock conservative ideals, such as her allegiance to the Right to Life movement. She also scores popularity points, according to the poll, in her stated commitment to help the middle class, to reform health-care policy and to move the U.S. closer to energy self-sufficiency. Many more Americans trust Democrats over Republicans in those crucial public-policy arenas, the poll found.
In the 14th District, which includes 11 of Trumbull County’s 24 townships, Joyce could look forward to a heated race against Democrat Michael Wager of Moreland Hills. Fortunately for the viability of the GOP in the 14th District, voters Tuesday chose the slightly more moderate Joyce over tea-party aligned Matt Lynch, albeit by a relatively skinny 10-percent margin. The poll found Americans are far less likely to support a candidate this fall who embraces the tea party.
All of the candidates from both parties would be wise to pay close attention to the issue selected as the most pressing in the nation: economic recovery. Seventy-two percent of poll respondents describe the current state of the U.S. economy as still “poor” or “not so good.”
We hope that creative yet workable plans for jobs and economic growth occupy prominent platform planks among all of the Valley’s congressional candidates. That single issue could well be the game changer for any of the major-party candidates come Nov. 4.