A tight area Congressional race is hinging on a key group: Warren County residents

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Crowd for Trump event excited for president's arrival

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

In a vicious and narrow Congressional race where the candidates concur on little else, Republican Rep. Steve Chabot and Democrat Aftab Pureval agree on one thing: the road to Washington goes through Warren County.

In interviews with this news organization, the incumbent Chabot and challenger Pureval, a first-term Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, each said they were focused heavily on Warren County. The district includes the entire county, plus much of the city of Cincinnati.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that President Trump came to the county Friday to energize the Republican base ahead of November’s midterm elections, which the president has characterized as a referendum on his first two years in office.

“We’re here for him tonight. A great friend of mine. He’s fought so hard for everything we’ve done,” Trump said, introducing Chabot, who grabbed the mic and yelled, “God bless Warren County!”
The question: Will Trump’s visit help Chabot?
ExploreMORE ON TRUMP’S RALLY: What he said, and what else happened

“Clearly, Steve Chabot might benefit from his visit, but Chabot has not been a big Trump supporter,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University. Chabot has acknowledged Trump was not among his top picks for president.
Chabot’s seat is “absolutely winnable” for Democrats, said David Cohen, a political science professor from the University of Akron. That much of the district includes Cincinnati, he said, only helps Democrats.

“This is certainly a district that could flip in a blue wave,” he said.

But the flip would have to include sizable support in Warren County, which is traditionally a Republican stronghold.

“If Pureval is to win, he’s going to have to at least make some in-roads in Warren County,” said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. Pureval doesn’t have to win Warren County, Kondik said, just “cut down the margins and then win Hamilton” County.

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Aftab Pureval (left) and Steve Chabot, candidates for Ohio's First Congressional District.

Aftab Pureval (left) and Steve Chabot, candidates for Ohio's First Congressional District.

Combined ShapeCaption
Aftab Pureval (left) and Steve Chabot, candidates for Ohio's First Congressional District.

Herb Asher, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, said Democrats have found a solid candidate in Pureval. He said Chabot and others have not had many true challenges during election years. Pureval may upend that trend.

“Democrats have a strong candidate who’s articulate, smart, a good fundraiser and good campaigner,” he said. “People still say Chabot is the favorite, but he’s probably facing the toughest contest he’s had in a long time.”

ExploreMORE ON THIS RACE: Local congressional race now a toss-up

Chabot recognizes he’s engaged in a tough political fight. Elected first in 1994, he served until 2009 when he lost to Democrat Steve Driehaus. But a rematch in 2010 gave Chabot the seat again. In 2011, the district was redrawn to include Warren County, which offsets the more heavily Democratic Hamilton County.

“I’m confident, but not overconfident,” Chabot told this new organization at a parade in Mason last month.

“Everywhere in the district is critical as far as I’m concerned, but there’s no question we hope the people of Warren County come out strongly this year. I anticipate that they will.

“My connections to the district are very deep. My opponents are tenuous at best. He’s the least connected and most liberal opponent that I’ve ever had run against me.”

Pureval, a Beavercreek native, says Chabot resorts to attacking him because he doesn’t have a record of his own to tout, despite 22 years in Congress. Pureval, in an interview last month in Lebanon, said Warren County is “critical to our coalition of getting elected.”

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“The good news is our message is resonating. Our message is resonating all across Warren County, whether it’s Mason, Lebanon or Springboro,” he said. “And what I love about Warren County is there’s an urban community, there’s a rural community and there’s a large suburban community. It really is a microcosm of a lot of districts across this country.”

Pureval believes that, if he can win the district, it will be a sign of how the remainder of the nation will go. Chabot won the district in 2016 by 18.4 percentage points, and his advantage in Warren County alone was a whopping 47.32 percentage points.

“It absolutely is fair to look at this race as a bellwether,” he said. “If in southwestern Ohio, in a district that was drawn to elect a Republican, that Chabot won about two years ago by 20 points and President Trump won by 6 points, if that district goes Democratic, then yeah, I think that’s a bellwether for the rest of the country.”

Trump won the district by 6.6 percentage points in 2016, and his advantage over Hillary Clinton in Warren County was 37.1 percentage points.

Nevertheless, Warren County was one of four of 88 Ohio counties where Trump’s margin of victory in 2016 was smaller than that of 2012 GOP candidate Mitt Romney (39 percentage points), Kondik said.

“It’s not like he did poorly in the county, he did just fine,” said Kondik of Trump. “But when you compare that to what happened state-wide — an 11 point net shift — you can see some Romney voters were resistant to the president in that county.”

Kondik said Trump’s visit to Warren County draws comparisons to his visit over the summer to Delaware County for the special election between Troy Balderson and Danny O’Connor. Balderson, the Republican, narrowly won that race.

Both Warren and Delaware counties, he said, are historically heavily Republican. And both are heavily populated with people who have attained four-year degrees.

Several Chabot supporters said they will enthusiastically vote for him, especially due to his anti-abortion stance. Pureval said he believes the government should not intervene “between a woman and her doctor when making healthcare decisions.”
Asked about Chabot, Shelley Hoyer of Mason said, “I supported him for years. I appreciate the work that he’s done. I do appreciate his pro-life platform and the smaller government, the tax reforms, healthcare.

“I mainly disagree with his opponent. I find him fake and not genuine. And the commercials that he’s running are just fake.”

Not all Republicans agreed with Hoyer’s take on Pureval.

“It seems like he’s young and enthusiastic,” said Dennis Fitzgerald, a Procter & Gamble employee who works in Mason. “I am a Republican and I vote straight Republican, I just think it’s time for a change, that’s all.”

Pureval formerly worked as an attorney for the Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble, which employs thousands across the district.

“It’s like he’s on the home team,” Fitzgerald said.

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