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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)

Republicans' optimism only increased after Wilson did not collect the necessary signatures to qualify for the primary ballot, necessitating a write-in candidacy. Sensing opportunity, the Republican Congressional Committee poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the district in hopes of killing Wilson's candidacy. Television ads accused Wilson of supporting the dumping of raw sewage in the Ohio River, among other not-so-nice allegations.

The strategy backfired. Wilson, who knocked on 40,000 doors and sent out 4,000 personal letters during the primary race, rolled up 66 percent of the vote, winning 4,500 votes more than the four Republican candidates combined.

"To do that is unheard of," said Noble County Democratic Party Chairman Larry Woodford. Republicans "saw the writing on the wall."

It certainly looks that way. After Wilson's win, Blasdel went from hot to "who?" in the eyes of many Republicans.

The 6th District "on paper does look like it should be competitive," Wilson said. Certainly, judging by the pickup trucks in the parking lot and camouflage on the attendees at the Noble County gathering, this is not a typical Democratic stronghold.

Most Democrats in this part of the world are conservative on social issues such as abortion and guns, and tend to identify more with Larry the Cable Guy than with Larry David. "Southeastern Ohio is Appalachia," said Woodford. "A lot of people don't want to say that, but it is."

Wilson, like Strickland, has so far been able to bridge that cultural divide between local and national Democrats. Instead, he is emphasizing his conservative credentials and past service for the area.

A poll conducted for his campaign last month shows that the strategy has been effective, as Wilson led Blasdel 49 percent to 25 percent. Blasdel campaign manager Ryan Stenger conceded that the Democrat is ahead at the moment but added that his candidate is seeing monthly improvements in private polling. "Things are definitely getting better," Stenger said. "We definitely have our challenges ahead of us."

Still, the Republican Congressional Committee has not promised an end-of-the-campaign advertising blitz that earlier this year seemed a given. Stenger argued that once the national party is satisfied with where its incumbents stand, the money will begin to flow to offensive opportunities in open seats.

In the meantime, Blasdel plans to capitalize on lower gas prices -- they have dropped below $2 in some parts of the district -- and the stock market, which is nearing a new high. "The other side will be caught napping on this one," promised Stenger.


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