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A Forfeited Battleground District

In the primaries, Democratic state Sen. Charlie Wilson's write-in candidacy won 4,500 more votes than the four Republican candidates combined.
In the primaries, Democratic state Sen. Charlie Wilson's write-in candidacy won 4,500 more votes than the four Republican candidates combined. (By Chet Rhodes -- Washingtonpost.com)

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By Chris Cillizza and Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 28, 2006

CALDWELL, Ohio -- Four months ago, state Sen. Charlie Wilson (D) was teetering on the edge of defeat in his campaign for Ohio's open 6th District. Today he is strolling toward Nov. 7, when, if current trends continue, he will be elected to Congress.

No television ads for Wilson or his Republican opponent, state Rep. Chuck Blasdel, are airing. For the moment, the national party organizations, which swarm into the most competitive races, are nowhere to be found.

And Wilson's schedule is not exactly full. His only public event so far this week was a dinner for the Noble County Democratic Party on Tuesday night here in rural southeastern Ohio.

"We don't hear anything" from national Republicans, Wilson said as he relaxed amid the red-white-and-blue bunting that decorated the tables at the Noble County Community Center. "We are very happy they are looking elsewhere."

This is a race the 2006 midterm elections forgot. The seat in the pastures and Appalachian foothills of eastern Ohio has been held for a decade by Rep. Ted Strickland, who this year is the Democrats' nominee for governor. His departure once tantalized Republicans, who regarded this seat -- carried narrowly by President Bush in 2004 -- as their most promising chance to take a congressional seat from the Democratic column.

Some promise. Blasdel's campaign never gained much traction after Wilson, considered the strongest of three contenders, won the Democratic primary in May.

Like any game, politics tends to be more fun on offense than defense. Republicans are not having much fun this election season.

While Democrats have targets around the country where they could gain a seat, Republicans have the barest handful.

A combination of an adverse national environment and the need to devote their resources to defending at-risk GOP incumbents gives the national party few opportunities to invest heavily in challengers, such as Blasdel, who face an uphill fight.

Ask Republicans where they see takeover opportunities this fall and they will rattle off seats such as Georgia's 8th District -- held by Rep. Jim Marshall -- Iowa's 3rd or even the open at-large seat in strongly Democratic Vermont. But none of those races look particularly dire for Democrats at the moment, as many Republican strategists privately acknowledge.

Republicans' receding chances in the Ohio 6th provide a microcosm of this trend.

For much of 2005, Blasdel, the second-ranking Republican in the Ohio House, was the golden boy of GOP recruitment efforts. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas M. Reynolds (N.Y.) regularly singled out him as a star in the making and the 6th District as a pickup opportunity.


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