GOP's DeWine stresses independence
WASHINGTON --Sen. Mike DeWine is running under a new banner as he seeks re-election in a difficult environment for Republicans. "Independent fighter for Ohio families" reads the tag line on the first television commercial of his campaign.
The ad concerns legislation that requires children's drugs be tested for safety and effectiveness, and spokesman Brian Seitchik says it is designed to show DeWine "getting things done" through bipartisan cooperation.
Despite the emphasis on independence, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman rebuffs any suggestion that the second-term senator is trying to keep his political distance from President Bush, with low public support in the polls, or even Republican Gov. Bob Taft, with even lower public support in the polls.
"He's trying to say who he is. He is an independent-minded guy. That's a good thing," said Mehlman.
Democrats see it differently, calling attention to a series of recent presidential appearances in Ohio.
Bush flew to Columbus last month for a speech, but DeWine missed it. "The senator was chairing a committee in Washington that day," said Seitchik.
The president headlined a February fundraising event in Cincinnati for DeWine. "The senator was there," his spokesman said. Photographers weren't, though, and the two Republicans did not appear together in public. "Fundraisers are always closed" to the public and press, Seitchik said.
Bush's most recent trip to Ohio involved a public speech in Cleveland. "The senator had a previous commitment to be with his father in Florida," the spokesman said, adding that the elder DeWine is recuperating from an undisclosed health problem.
Next up: a presidential visit to Cincinnati to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the Reds' major league baseball season. DeWine hopes to attend the game, according to his spokesman.
The stadium, the Great American Ballpark, has seats for 42,059, according to the team's Web site. Not clear whether the two men will be able to sit together.
As for DeWine's record on health care, Democrats don't think much of that either.
Rep. Sherrod Brown, the leading Democratic challenger, "wishes that Sen. DeWine's record in the Senate matched his presentation on television. Just last week he voted for health care legislation that would threaten health care for 3 million Ohioans, including children," spokeswoman Joanna Kuebler said.
The calendar says there are more than seven months until Election Day. But lawmakers in a select group can relax. They have no major party opponent on the November ballot.
Among them are 13 Democrats and seven Republicans, according to official Web sites maintained by state election officials. There are first-termers like Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., and Charlie Dent, R-Pa; and veterans such as nine-term Illinois Democrat Jerry Costello and Rep. Chip Pickering, a fifth-term Republican from Mississippi.
Texas, where state political clashes loom large in the national struggle for House control, has six incumbents without major party opponents. They are Democratic Reps. Al Green, Silvestre Reyes, Charlie Gonzalez, Lloyd Doggett and Henry Cuellar, and Republican Mike Conaway.
The shortage of competition in those districts masks a larger struggle for control of the House, in which Democrats must gain 15 seats to win a majority.
"`We're proud of our strong class of candidates across the country," said Bill Burton, a spokesman for the Democratic campaign committee. "There are Democratic candidates for change. We're going to make for competitive races and a very tough time for Republican incumbents."
Carl Forti, a spokesman for the House Republican campaign committee, said the GOP is "focusing on fielding candidates in the competitive races, unlike the Democrats who promised to have a challenger in every GOP district Kerry won but have already failed to fulfill this promise." That was a reference to Dent, who sits in a district that Bush lost in 2004 to Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.
Others without major party opposition so far, according to the Web sites, include Democrats Hilda Solis of California, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Robert Brady and Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania; Tim Ryan of Ohio, and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. Republicans are Gary Miller and Darrell Issa of California and Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania. No Democrat filed to run against GOP Rep. Jim Leach in Iowa, but he is expected to draw a rival once the party holds its state convention.
The list is all but certain to grow as filing deadlines pass in other states.
Republican Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana may well end up with the most challengers of any incumbent in Congress -- for this or any other election year.
Dogged by questions relating to his ties with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the three-term lawmaker has three challengers in the June 6 Republican primary alone. Among them is Bob Keenan, the leader of Republicans in the state senate.
If Burns clears that hurdle, he'll face the winner of a five-way Democratic primary in November. And a Libertarian challenger.