CANTON, Ohio — Democrat Joyce Healy-Abrams is one of two first-time candidates we’re tracking during #5in5 — but she’s no stranger to politics.
Her father, William J. Healy, was a state assemblyman, and her brother, William J. Healy II, is mayor of Canton — and she mentions their service when speaking with reporters and voters.
The race is a “Lean Republican” contest, according to The Washington Post House race ratings, but Healy-Abrams is employing a familiar campaign message she thinks will work: that Washington is broken, her opponent is part of the problem and she can help find solutions.
Will the message work? She’s airing ads in the costly Cleveland television market first and has support of liberal groups including EMILY’s List — but national Democrats expect her to come up short.
2chambers spoke with Healy-Abrams last week before visiting Ohio. A transcript of our interview, edited for clarity and length, appears below:
2chambers: Why are you running for Congress?
Healy-Abrams: Because it’s necessary. I’m a business person and I’ve been watching what’s been going on and I’m increasingly frustrated with Congress. And I’m the kind of person that I can either sit at home or get up and do something, so I’m getting up and doing something about it.
I’m a member of a politically active family and I’ve always kind of been around it and involved in it one way or another. I just never thought I’d be a candidate. We all have our tipping points. I was watching what was going on with the challenge for middle-class Americans and I said, enough is enough. I decided to run on Dec. 31 without doing much consultation, because I kind of know the commitment it takes, the sacrifices that it takes, the work that it takes and I’m that committed that I knew that I would jump in and work day and night to make it happen.
But you’re running this race without much financial support from national Democrats and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Not really, the DCCC was there for me, and they have been every step of the way. I only had six weeks to fundraise in the first quarter and I was also put on EMILY’s List. I’ve gotten many, many endorsements throughout the state.
This particular district, the 7th district, President Obama did about 48 percent four years ago, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) did 55 percent, and Issue 2 [an anti-union law] did 59 percent, which was this past November.
We obviously are in a swing district that is close to 50-50 as it gets and we have a spread between 48 to 59.
We have a fair amount of name recognition in this area, and that’s helpful for my candidacy. It goes to Lorrain County, which is very far north. When the district was redrawn for Congressman Gibbs, it went very far north, and over 70 percent of the district is new to him. It’s a new congressional district.
It’s almost like an open race, because we’re both known in our areas, but we need to get our message and our name out in other areas that we’re not known in. That’s why we went on television. It was important for me to define myself and not let my opponent define me. So we’re up before he is, so far.
And what’s your message to voters?
The main thing is that Congress is broken. I firmly believe that. He’s part of the problem. I’m a small-business owner, I’ve created a job, one job at a time. I’ve balanced the books, I’ve met payroll every two years, and I’ve looked for capital and credit to grow my business. And I thought maybe someone with this experience would be very helpful right now, because I don’t think he understands the private sector.
Nothing is happening. He’s a career politician, he’s part of the problem. We need someone in Washington who’s willing to do the right thing and make the right decisions.
You sound like Mitt Romney — the outside business person running against the career politician.
It’s personal experience – and it’s about doing the right thing. That’s more important than anything. Look at what’s happening in Congress, it’s not doing anything.
I just think that my opponent has followed [House Speaker John] Boehner 97 percent of the time, he hasn’t done anything to make a difference in this community. I’ve gone to the counties that he’s represented and they don’t even know him. The hyper-partisanship is just killing the American people and it’s the wrong path.
If I had somebody who was in my company that couldn’t do the job, or wouldn’t do the job, then I’d have to find somebody else. And I think he’s failing Ohioans.
If Obama came to Canton, would you campaign with him?
That’s interesting, because Canton is overwhelmingly Democratic … the district includes Stark County, which is critical to winning the state. I’m the Democratic nominee, so obviously if he came to the district I’d stand with him. But I’m in a diverse district and I’d have to take positions ahead of or different than him.
Well, where do you differ?
One of the things I’d say is that we really have to focus on reducing health-care costs. When we’re looking at making sure that Medicare is solvent and that it’s going to be worthwhile down the road, we want to make sure that we can help reduce health-care costs.
For example, we know that prescription drugs have a different cost for seniors than people who are recipients of the veteran’s program. But why? Why can’t we have the same low costs for all the people who are on the government program?
What’s the biggest surprise about running your campaign?
Call time. [When candidates call potential financial donors.]
What about it?
This is an environment where you have to be able to have a certain amount of fundraising. I have 10 counties, I have to be able to get on television in order to reach over 700,000 people. And because the Cleveland area is so expensive – I feel like it’s ground zero in the country – I have to be able to raise money to stay on the air. That’s one of the challenges of getting into the race at the eleventh hour. My biggest opponent is time – not my opponent – it’s time to get on the air. Everything else hasn’t been a surprise.
It’s unfortunate that the money that is driving this behavior is toxic. I think that Citizens United is one of the worst things that we could have done. Basically we have money that is buying the best Congress we can get, but not the best Congress.
What is call-time like?
When I’m calling folks, I’m introducing myself. I’m not new to fundraising – I’ve been fundraising for other causes my entire life – it’s not challenging that way. The challenge is that a lot of people don’t know me outside my county and I have to tell them my positions on issues and ask for their support. They have to learn more about me, and then there’s follow up. A lot o`f people that I talk to are very supportive. And I’m very fortunate that I’ve gotten the support that we have.
My opninion is that you need to talk to Ohioans, not the special interest that my opponent is getting his support from. I’m talking to Ohioanas, I’m talking to voters. I think that’s the best way to do outreach and raise money.