Game on. Aftab Pureval versus U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot in Ohio's 1st Congressional District.
For all the marbles.
Charismatic, up-and-coming young challenger up against a wily old veteran of many an election battle, with bumps and bruises to prove it. We could sell tickets to this one.
The fact is, it has been a long time since there has been a truly competitive race in the 1st District. The Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly made sure of that after the 2010 U.S. Census when they re-drew the district and gave Chabot the gift that keeps on giving – the GOP promised land, otherwise known as Warren County.
Warren County's massive Republican majority has allowed Chabot to sit fat and happy through the last three Congressional elections. Until now.
Aftab Pureval, who, in 2016, came seemingly out of nowhere to run a clever and well-financed campaign and did something nobody in Hamilton County politics thought possible: He defeated a Winkler. In this case, Tracy Winkler, the Republican clerk of courts.
He took office in January of last year. Since then, he has cut loose a number of high-paid administrators who had political connections to the GOP, brought the office's technology into the 21st century, gave his employees a $16 an hour minimum wage, paid family leave and LGBTQ protections and came in about $1 million under budget.
Yes, he has three years left on his term as clerk of courts. The Republicans are already all over him for the naked ambition of running for higher office before finishing the job he has. He will have an answer for that (see above).
At the moment, it's not clear at all that 35-year-old Pureval – the son of an Indian father and a Tibetan mother – can turn this into a really competitive race.
And the Democrat is clearly trying to make "Chabot" synonymous with "Trump" for voters who are less than happy with the man in the White House. That means an appeal to women voters - Democrats, Republicans and independents.
No one knows yet if it will work, but Pureval has certainly gotten the attention of Chabot's campaign and the GOP in general.
Wednesday, less than an hour after Pureval formally announced his candidacy before a raucous, enthusiastic packed house of supporters in Avondale, Cody Rizzuto, a spokesman for the Chabot campaign, issued a sharply worded response to the Democrat's announcement.
"Aftab's candidacy is a nearly flawless combination of arrogance, inexperience and political opportunism," Rizzuto wrote.
Then he blasted the Democrat for living outside the district in a "mansion" in Hyde Park (it's 2,277 square feet, "McMansion" at best). Pureval responded by saying that he and his fiancée had moved downtown, which is in the district. He went to the board of elections and changed his voting address right before his campaign event Wednesday morning.
We have a feeling this residency theme will return again. First of all, the Constitution does not require a member of the U.S. House to reside in the district he or she represents. Secondly, it probably won't amount to a hill of beans to most voters.
But will this district be targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) as one of its "Red to Blue" seats – House districts they believe can be flipped to the Democrats in November by a good candidate.
Pureval's race is not on the "Red to Blue" list yet. It could be, if he demonstrates an ability to raise money (and he can do that) and show a sufficient amount of grassroots support and organization. That shouldn't be much of a trick for him either.
David Niven, an assistant professor of American politics at the University of Cincinnati, said the DCCC is determine in 2018 "not to let opportunities to win go to waste" as they try, against the odds, to retake control of Congress.
"The DCCC has sort of heartless triage system,'' Niven said. "First, they go out and recruit candidates, as they did with Aftab. They convince dozens of candidates like him that they should run.
"And if they don't perform up to their standards in raising money and organization, they cut them off and move on,'' Niven said. "It's a tough business."
Kyle Kondik, an Ohioan who is managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a widely-read weekly politics publication, said there is some "potential" for the Democrats in Ohio-1, although Sabato's Crystal Ball lists the district as Likely Republican.
Warren County will be the key, Kondik said.
"Warren has a high percentage of four-year college graduates, a group that is a little more suspicious of Trump than they usually are of other Republicans,'' Kondik told WVXU. "Will enough of them be open to giving Pureval a look as a check on Trump?
"Obviously, Pureval can't win that county, but reducing the typical huge GOP edge there could help him make the math work,'' Kondik said.
Niven is a believer in the theory that 2018 will be a Democratic surge year. He bases that on the special elections that have been held since Donald Trump became president.
"Democrats are outperforming their previous numbers by 12 percent,'' Niven said. "There has been a consistent boost in the Democratic vote.
"Now, let's say that trend continues and you give an Aftab Pureval an extra 10 to 12 percentage points,'' Niven said. "I'd say Chabot would have a fight on his hands."
“Politically Speaking” is WVXU reporter Howard Wilkinson’s weekly column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us. Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974.