By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) has faced -- and overcome -- tough opponents ever since he was first elected to the House in the Republican landslide of 1994. This year is no different, and his vote Monday against the $700 billion financial bailout package has injected an enormous element of uncertainty into his reelection bid.
Chabot's opponent, Democrat Steven L. Driehaus, quickly and eagerly questioned the Republican's opposition to the bill, given the high number of foreclosures in their Cincinnati-area district -- even though he refused to take a position on the bailout.
"The congressman has a history of inaction on the issue. People are beginning to connect the dots," said Driehaus, an Ohio state representative. "Yesterday's vote was just the latest example of the cost of his inaction."
Chabot, who declined to be interviewed, issued a statement saying that he voted against the legislation because it was flawed.
"While I believe we must work to stabilize our financial markets as quickly as possible, this legislation would have placed an enormous burden on taxpayers," Chabot said in the statement. "In my view, this bill would set a dangerous precedent by forcing hard-working families to pay for the mistakes of businesses that acted irresponsibly. Additionally, this legislation makes no substantive reforms to prevent a future financial emergency."
In the immediate aftermath of the vote, it was unclear whether opposing the measure will damage GOP incumbents such as Chabot, who were already facing an inhospitable political climate.
A Washington Post-ABC News Poll that was released last night showed that voters were divided over the bailout package but held House Republicans more responsible for its failure by 2 to 1.
Chabot campaign spokeswoman Katie Fox said calls to the congressman about his vote were "a mixed bag." "Most people have been happy with his vote, but some folks want to wait to see what happens over the course of the week and the weekend," she said.
Chabot held three telephone town hall meetings to talk with constituents about the nation's financial crisis last week, Fox said, noting that two of the meetings attracted 15,000 callers. When asked whether the bailout ranks as one of the campaign's top issues, Fox replied, "I think it is now."
Driehaus -- who is running nearly even with Chabot, according to a recent poll in Roll Call -- has made the nation's mortgage and financial problems a central tenet of his campaign and argued that this week's events have helped voters understand the broader ramifications of the district's economic woes.
"I've been saying this issue is the number one issue affecting our community, that's affecting greater Cincinnati," he said of the foreclosure crisis.
Driehaus was one of several Democratic challengers in the Midwest who seized upon Monday's vote as ammunition for their campaigns.
On Monday, Kay Barnes, the Democrat challenging Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), issued a statement saying she would have opposed the bailout but still faulted Graves for taking the same position.
"The fact that Congress is unable to come together to pass a package that calms the financial markets, while protecting the interests of middle class families here in the 6th district, demonstrates just how fundamentally broken things are in Washington," she said in the statement.
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.