Democrats optimistic this is the year to defeat Congressman Turner

Theresa Gasper has big fundraising, organization lead over Democrats Michael Milisits and Robert Klepinger.

NOTE: This story focuses on the Democrats running in the 10th Congressional district primary. To read about the three Republicans in the race, click here.


Two Democratic candidates in the Ohio District 10 congressional primary agree on a few things about the third Democratic candidate: She’s raised more money. She’s impressive. She’ll probably win.

Theresa Gasper thinks she’ll win, too.

“I look forward to the primary being over and being able to drill down into things,” Gasper told the Dayton Daily News in an interview last week. “There’s a lot of excitement about the race, especially with the blue wave everyone is talking about.”

VOTER GUIDE: Read the candidates in their own words

Gasper and opponents Robert Klepinger and Michael Milisits agree: This is the year Congressman Mike Turner could lose.

“I think there’s been a lot of excitement around this race, which is something we haven’t seen in awhile,” Milisits said. “I’m pretty impressed with Ms. Gasper. She’s put together a big team, and part of this race is going to be having the logistics behind it. In my race, we certainly haven’t been able to get the fundraising.”

Neither Klepinger nor Millisits has mounted anywhere near the significant donor haul Gasper, a businesswoman from Beavercreek, has accomplished in the first quarter. She raised $209,645 — $50,000 of it her own money — to pull in more than twice what Turner, the eight-term Republican congressman from Dayton, raised last quarter. Turner raised $103,807.

“I think it’s great,” Klepinger said. “She’s obviously had support at different levels that I’ve never had. I don’t want to actively campaign against another Democrat.”

What’s the message?

Gasper’s opponents are instead focused on what they can bring to the race: A discussion about the working class.

“I’m a lifelong Democrat, and if you vote for me you should expect me to vote the way the Democratic party does,” said Klepinger, of Dayton. “I’m not a scholar, I’m not a lawyer, I’m just a working guy who wants to go out there and do what’s right, and there are a plethora of issues that we can address.”

Among them: “Securing” Social Security, making college more affordable, addressing student debt, refinancing student loans, making voting easier, and rejecting President Trump’s tariffs.

Gasper said she’s concerned, too, about Trump’s steel tariffs backfiring if the Chinese attempt to retaliate against Ohio soybean farmers.

“I give the Chinese credit, they know their response is a good way to get back at Trump supporters,” Gasper said. “I feel like they’re playing three-dimensional chess and he’s playing checkers.”

Milisits says his embrace of Bernie Sanders-style economic populism is a message that resonates with many Democrats in the district, and he’s concerned that Gasper’s messaging “isn’t landing with people.”

“Even if I don’t win the primary, I expect to get a portion of the vote to say this message is resonating,” Milisits said. “It’s economic populism, and that’s something that’s resonating on both sides of the aisle.”

“I hope whoever comes out of this primary, that’s their message moving forward,” he said.

Gasper’s focus: Beat Turner

Should Gasper win on May 8, it seems her general election message is far more likely to be about drawing personal contrasts between Turner, a moderate Republican compared to the rest of Ohio’s delegation, and Gasper, a former Republican.

In the end, Milisits appears ready to embrace that message, too, if it means electing someone other than Turner.

“I just think Mike Turner, he doesn’t show up,” Milisits said. “I’m convinced that if he lost his seat, he’d live in Washington. He wouldn’t move back to this town. He’s more interested in what’s going on in the Beltway than in his district. Basically, my entire life where I’ve been of voting age, Mike Turner has been my congressman, and there hasn’t been a lot of representation.”

Gasper has trained her sights on Turner. For example, when Klepinger noted he is the only Democrat in the race with a college degree, instead of attacking Klepinger, Gasper aimed a quip at Turner: “I would say our incumbent has three degrees and that’s not doing a lot for the district.”

Her criticisms about Turner’s work at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base are near identical to those of the two Republicans running against him in the primary.

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“He wants everyone to believe that he is the sole — I hate to use the word — lord and savior of Wright-Patterson, but he takes a lot of credit that he doesn’t deserve,” Gasper said. “For one person to try and take credit, I think, is a level of arrogance that I don’t think needs to exist. Beyond that, I don’t think he’s done a lot for the district. I’m in West Dayton right now, and things aren’t going very well over here.”

And then, the pivot to herself.

“I think because I used to be a Republican and I’m now a Democrat, that gives me a different perspective,” she said. “I think I have an ability to form relationships with people who I disagree with, and that’s the skill we need that is sorely lacking in D.C. right now.”

Still an uphill battle

Ohio’s 10th District, which includes all of Montgomery and Greene counties and part of Fayette County, is a traditional stronghold for Republicans. Turner has won all of his elections since 2002 with more than 58 percent of the vote. In his last election in 2016, Turner won 64 percent of the vote.

Despite Gasper’s fundraising show, she’s still not expecting money from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Party’s U.S. House fundraising arm.

They have been helpful; They have limited resources,” Gasper said. “I feel if I take care of business, any support I get at the national level will follow.”

» Local congressional district no longer ‘solid’ for GOP, report says

Two independent, nonpartisan political analysis groups have noted a slight shift in the district.

Last week, Sabato’s Crystal Ball — a service of the University of Virginia Center for Politics — moved its ranking of the district from “Safe Republican” to “Likely Republican.”

RELATED: Two Republicans taking on Congressman Turner in May primary

Earlier in April, Cook Political Report, a leading political newsletter, moved their read of the district from “solid” Republican to “likely” Republican. By definition, the newsletter still does not see the seat as competitive. The report defines “likely” as seats that “are not considered competitive at this point, but have the potential to become engaged.”

Democrats can hope.

“Up until this point, everyone thought a race against Turner was unwinnable,” Klepinger said. “We’ll see what happens.”

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