In a backroom of the Richwood Public Library on Tuesday, the group Women For Action hosted a candidate forum with Democrats running for seats in local and state government.
At the center were three candidates vying to take on Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the outspoken Republican who has represented the sprawling, gerrymandered 4th congressional district since 2007.
The three Democrats running in the March 17 primary are Shannon Freshour, Jeff Sites and Mike Larsen.
At the Richwood forum, Freshour talked about how she was in one of the first classes of kids to participate in Head Start. She says the boost she got from that educational program makes her particularly sensitive to protecting social services.
“I want to make sure that we have those investments that we’re making in the next generations,” Freshour said. “And I looked at the president’s budget this week, which Jordan was very excited about, it’s an $800 billion cut to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.”
Freshour also emphasized her policy chops, noting she has a Masters in American Government from Johns Hopkins University.
Next up was Sites, a veteran born in Lima who works as a manager for a logistics company in Findlay. Sites talked about protecting health care and improving the Affordable Care Act.
He shared a story of his brother, who needs a $26,000 injection every month for a chronic condition.
“Every vote for Jim Jordan is a nail in my brother’s coffin, because I know no matter what the president says, no matter what Jim Jordan says, they are going to do their best to repeal the ACA,” Sites said.
Of the three, Sites made the most noticeable pitch toward drawing conservative voters across the aisle. Although he takes a more liberal stance on social issues, he emphasized the need for Congress to reign in deficit spending.
Larsen rounded out the field, talking about his long union membership, going back to being a teenager selling peanuts at a ballpark. He also touted his experience in Washington, working on the staff of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.).
Larsen’s pitch emphasized the entry of former Shelby County Republican Party chair Chris Gibbs, who’s running as an independent.
“We have a chance of stealing a seat the Republicans gerrymandered so that we would never have a chance," Larsen said. "We actually can steal the seat, and that’s so important to remember.”
Larsen took perhaps the most progressive stand of the three. He argued the party’s best chance in November is energizing voters and offering a distinct choice, rather than running “half a Democrat” or a “Democrat-light” candidate.
Even with two candidates in Jordan and Gibbs vying for traditionally conservative voters, the district is extremely friendly to the GOP. Since it was drawn after the 2000 census, Republicans have consistently won the district, and won big. Jordan’s smallest margin of victory came in 2012—when he won by more than 20 points.
Jordan is a hometown hero in Urbana, and a product of wrestling powerhouse Graham High School. After more than a decade holding House Republicans to their conservative commitments on the campaign trail, Jordan took a central role in the impeachment proceedings. In televised hearings and cable talk shows, Jordan distinguished himself as perhaps President Trump’s most forceful and effective defender.
Jordan’s loyalty to the president has endeared him to many Republicans, and his campaign coffers reflect it. Going into the 2018 election, Jordan raised $1.2 million. For this November, he’s already sitting on more than $3.7 million.
Jordan’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment about the race ahead.
Retired Ohio State political scientist Herb Asher is blunt about the Democrats chances: slim. He says they face challenges in terms of the district’s political demographics, geographic size and relative lack of name recognition.
“I think what they’re hoping for here is that Jordan has become such a polarizing figure that somehow they’ll be able to put together a coalition, but I think the way that district looks, it’s going to be very difficult to do that,” Asher explains.
He also notes that mounting a serious challenge to Jordan will require significant outside money.
“If they showed any signs of being competitive, I’m sure money after that would flow into their campaigns, because again, Jordan is one of the more hated people among liberals and progressives," Asher says.
The Democratic candidates will be participating in another forum Thursday night in Tiffin and on Saturday in Bluffton.