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US House speaker faces competition in Ohio primary

  • Article by: DAN SEWELL
  • Associated Press
  • April 27, 2014 - 10:15 AM

MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — John Boehner's primary races are often about as challenging as a tap-in putt. However, the U.S. House speaker and avid golfer faces stepped-up competition back home this time.

With three GOP opponents on the ballot and some outside money aimed against him, Boehner's campaign has run two rounds of television ads amid other voter outreach efforts. Boehner last week worked his 8th House District that stretches across six counties, making five announced stops over three days through western Ohio.

"We take every race very seriously," campaign spokesman Cory Fritz said. And, he said, without major statewide GOP primaries for governor, U.S. senator or attention-grabbing issues on the May 6 ballot, the campaign saw a need to "start mobilizing and energizing the base."

Bryan Marshall, a political scientist at Miami University, said factors such as a national tea party group pumping money into the district race and opponents painting Boehner as the face of a dysfunctional Washington make this primary more intriguing than others Boehner has faced.

Boehner, who first won the seat in 1990, racked up 84 percent of the 2012 vote against one candidate and 85 percent against two 2010 challengers after three straight uncontested primaries in the Republican-dominated district.

Marshall said while there appears to be little doubt about Boehner winning re-nomination, his opponents could attract votes from Republicans who are unhappy about the federal deficit, immigration or other issues.

"If these challengers can knock 25 to 30 percent off (Boehner's recent percentages), I think they send a real message to Boehner and the leadership that there is a lot of discontent out there in the base," he said.

There are some "Fire Boehner" yard signs and other scattered indications of opposition in the district, but there are no widespread media campaigns rivaling Boehner's. His campaign headed into the last month with some $3.3 million available against opponents on shoestring budgets.

However, challenger J.D. Winteregg has gained attention in the last few days with a satirical online ad claiming he offers the remedy for "electile dysfunction" personified by Boehner. The takeoff on the Cialis drug's "When the moment is right" ads warns that "Boehner shouldn't count his chickens before they hatch" and concludes with Winteregg proclaiming that he doesn't golf.

"We've got some more tricks up our sleeves we think will make an impact," Winteregg said Friday while on his lunch break from teaching high school French. "People are ready for something new, something fresh."

At 32, Winteregg, of Troy, is a political novice who said he's been working for months to get name recognition and to let dissatisfied Republicans know they have an alternative.

"I'm a firm believer in the primary process, and I want it to work," Winteregg said.

The Virginia-based Tea Party Leadership Fund has spent some $320,000 on voter outreach against Boehner and in support of Winteregg. Another primary challenger, Matthew Ashworth of Liberty Township, is a mortgage underwriter and tea party activist, while Eric Gurr, a political novice, is a Liberty Township computer consultant. Liberty Township neighbors Boehner's home West Chester Township in a heavily suburban part of the district, which is also dotted with small cities and farmland.

Gurr, with some $25,000 to spend, says he'll try to make a spirited push in the campaign's final week. He called Boehner a formidable foe and praised his staff and organization as "really difficult to run against."

In appearances Thursday at a cleaning systems business in Hamilton and at a Rotary Club brown-bag luncheon at a golf course country club near the city, Boehner discussed issues such as U.S. global leadership, reducing federal government and the need for immigration reform. He appeared irked when a Rotarian asked about tea party opposition.

"Well, there's the tea party, and then there are people who purport to represent the tea party," Boehner said. "I don't have any issue with the tea party; I have issues with organizations in Washington who raise money purporting to represent the tea party .... raising money to line their own pockets."

The incumbent got warm applause as he wrapped up his luncheon talk.

"I think he's more of a pragmatist," said retired businessman David McElwee. "That doesn't mean I back him on everything."

Robert Lance Thomas, a real estate appraiser, said he doesn't understand the Boehner opposition.

"I think there are a lot of stubborn people who are just looking to toot their own horns," Thomas said.

© 2014 Star Tribune