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Left Adrift by His Own Party, Ohio Democrat Steve Driehaus Fights On

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CINCINNATI – Beleaguered Democratic House incumbent Steve Driehaus is the antithesis of a stiff-upper-lip, suffer-in-silence politician. Confronted with bad news (and the 44-year-old freshman congressman has had more than his share this week in his rematch race against Republican Steve Chabot), Driehaus revels in his defiance.

Saturday morning, the red-faced Driehaus – leaving his blue blazer on the chair as he stood to rally 150 AFL-CIO union activists -- began his five-minute speech with an admission that most candidates would bury in the fine print of their Federal Election Commission reports.

"I got a call from my campaign manager this morning," he declared, with national AFL president Rich Trumka looking on. "She's a little worried that Steve Chabot raised more money than I did this quarter. Shocking."

Charles DharapakA few beats later, the Bad News Bear candidate reminded the union-hall crowd, "You may have heard this week that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pulled some of its ads for me down in this district."

About all that was missing was the lament that the Driehaus family dog was being held for ransom by the John Boehner Fan Club.

Trailing in the polls and widely identified as among the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the nation (most non-partisan rating systems describe the district as "Leans Republican"), Driehaus was stung by the DCCC's decision to cancel more than $500,000 in local TV ads, which is more money than either candidate raised in the third quarter.

But unlike every other Democratic incumbent left adrift as the national party performed its triage to redirect money to races it considered more winnable, Driehaus launched an immediate counterattack. The congressman impulsively cut a minute-long video (primitively shot with the candidate, his collar-button open and his tie askew, sitting against a white wall decorated with a Driehaus campaign poster) that went up on ActBlue, a grassroots Democratic fund-raising website.

"I've had the guts to stand up for you when it comes to tough votes on health care, changing our economy, turning this around and making a difference while we stand up to Wall Street," Driehaus declared in the video before launching his hard sell: "Let's send a message to the DCCC that you stand up for candidates who stand up for your principles."

By late Saturday afternoon, the anti-DCCC appeal had brought in less than $5,000 for Driehaus, although the freshman congressman has raised more than $200,000 on ActBlue during the entire campaign cycle.

During a Friday interview at a bagel shop near the University of Cincinnati campus, Driehaus, a former state legislator, tried to portray himself as the victim of bad polling, ("I'm one of the few House members who understands regression analysis").

Referring to the last published poll (by SurveyUSA for the Cincinnati Enquirer) in late September, which showed him losing to Chabot by 12 points, Driehaus pounced on its methodological flaws.

"That poll determined that the turnout in this race would be about 17 percent African-American," Driehaus said, referring to his Cincinnati-centered district, which Barack Obama carried with 55 percent of the vote in 2008. "But this is a 30-percent African-American district."

Driehaus also demonstrated his sophisticated grasp of the innards of polling by invoking a recent study that revealed a small built-in GOP edge in polls (like those of SurveyUSA) that exclude cell-phone users.

Using Driehaus' math – after changing the turnout model and adjusting for cell phones – "that 12-point differential becomes a 5-to-6 point differential, which to my mind is in the margin of error." There are a few problems with this self-serving calculus -- most notably that it is never a good sign in politics when a candidate, in effect, brags, "That poll is garbage. I'm only losing by 6 points." Presumably, the DCCC used its own internal polling (and not SurveyUSA) when it made its white-flag decision on campaign ads. Moreover, Chabot claims his own polls (Driehaus explained that he is no longer conducting horse-race surveys) show him with a double-digit lead.

On paper, Driehaus should not be one of the most imperiled Democrats in the nation. Even though Chabot served seven terms in the House before he was defeated by Driehaus (with 53 percent of the vote) in 2008, Ohio's First District is a classic swing district. The charismatically challenged John Kerry won 49 percent of the vote here in 2004. With strong Catholic pro-life sentiment in the district, Driehaus, like Chabot. is anti-abortion, which makes him a rarity in the House Democratic caucus.

The theory in the Chabot campaign is that the House vote that damaged Driehaus the most was his last-minute support in March for the Obama health-care legislation. Part of a small group of hold-out anti-abortion Democrats, Driehaus only agreed to back the bill after the president promised to issue an executive order banning financing for abortion.

"I was never against health care," Driehaus stressed to me in our interview, before alluding to the last-minute congressional machinations on the health care issue when he said, "It is what it is – and I think people understand my position."

The Chabot campaign ridiculed his health-care vote as a flip-flop in a recent voice-of-doom TV commercial with the tag line, "Congressman Driehaus put his party leaders first -- hurting us all." Like many ads from both candidates in this race, the accuracy of the Chabot spot was critiqued by the Cincinnati Enquirer's Ad Watch.

I first covered a Chabot campaign back in 1998 when the conservative Republican, who served on the House Judiciary Committee, survived a fierce re-election challenge over his support for Bill Clinton's impeachment. What I noted then (as we toured church bingo halls thick with cigarette smoke), and Democrats grudgingly admit now, is that the 57-year-old Chabot works hard at the old-fashioned aspects of the political game from hand-shaking to lawn signs,(he has distributed 10,000).

Sitting on a couch in his campaign office Saturday morning, Chabot, wearing a dark tweed jacket and khaki slacks, tried to explain what went wrong for him in 2008.

"It was the huge turnout in the most Democratic parts of the district," he said. "We still could have narrowly held on except for the fact that there was a 10-percent drop-off in the most Republican parts of the district, out in the suburban areas. Why is that? McCain didn't run a particularly strong campaign ... The economic meltdown got more blamed on the Republicans because Bush was in the White House."

Now Driehaus -- out-funded, partly abandoned by his own party and deprived of George Bush as a political foil -- is left depending on the elusive magic of Democratic turnout to confound the pundits and the national political operatives in November.

After Driehaus spoke to the AFL-CIO rally ("Commercials don't get me elected, it's the men and women in this room busting their ass who got me elected"), I chatted with Robert Sturdevant, who was there as the chief labor delegate from the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers. "Driehaus is fighting an uphill battle all the time," Sturdevant said. "This race is a good microcosm of how much labor can bring to an off-year election."

Betting on the labor vote has not been the safest strategy for Democrats over the last few decades. And Alicia Reece, a black state representative from central Cincinnati, admits that the African-American vote, a key Democratic constituency, has been slow to mobilize, "People are just now getting fired up for voting," she said.

But Steve Driehaus still insists that his ordeal and his rejection by the DCCC "has awakened the base." The freshman Democrat insisted to me during our interview, "I don't go through the motions. I don't intend to lose. And we're going to see this through and we're going to win." As Driehaus uttered those fighting words, I noticed how fiercely his hands were gripping his paper cup of coffee. It was either his own form of emphatic punctuation or a reflection of his desperate need to cling to something – even a cup of lukewarm coffee – in a storm.


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Filed Under: House, 2010 Elections

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16 Comments

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mdorganizer

Driehaus lost support from the DCCC because his polling numbers are bad, plain and simple. They reserved the cash for races they still hope to win. The DCCC is pragmatic about this kind of thing and to the chagrin of many progressives they would support just about any Democrat no matter how conservative if the polls indicated that she or he could win. A better question for Driehaus to reflect on is why he didn't have more enthusiastic support in the first place. The answer seems pretty obvious to folks who work elections. He has spent so much time making conservative noise that the kind of Democrats who knock doors and donate time got turned off. Democrats who follow the issues are proud of health care reform because it curbs abuse by insurance companies, it will end pre-existing conditions, it will give families who make $80,000 a year and less a little bit of helping buying insurance when their jobs don't provide it. These reforms make the country a little more equitable - a better place to live for the average family. These reforms will save lives every day. He did not help himself with the Democratic base by waiting to the last possible minute to become a yes vote. The Democrats who knock doors, make phone calls and raise money want some one who will stand for regulation of big business and who will support government's role in stabilizing the economy. Driehaus has been so busy trying to sound like a Republican that he didn't even support the House version of a public jobs bill - similar to the one that Senator Brown had promoted in the Senate. Of course if the Democratic base was working harder for Dreihaus then he would also be polling better and if he was polling better then the DCCC wouldn't have pulled the plug.

November 02 2010 at 2:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
PAULA

You need to be carefull this artical as well as many others may very well be put out there to make Republicans and independents and dem's believe that there is'nt any rush about this vote. You should be sure to cast your vote if we are to get these's incumbents out and begin to take our country back, remember these folks and their ability to begin this smoke and mirrors stuff. These's people are fighting for their job's not your's.

October 18 2010 at 9:47 AM Report abuse +19 rate up rate down Reply
John Vilvens

Steve did all the leaders told him to do. He voted against what the people were telling him they wanted to do as told. Now the people who he followed, not doing as he should and voting as the people wanted, are dropping him. Now the people he should have listen to are going to vote him out. We need a third party the two we have seem to eat thier own and do not care what the people want.

October 18 2010 at 8:23 AM Report abuse +19 rate up rate down Reply
ddstan1120

What he has done is shoot himself in the foot by voting with Odummy and his regime on some of the most unpopular programs ever to smell up Washington. 15 more days from today, he will have lots and lost of company, packing his bags and heading on home to go to a real job, if he can find one.

October 18 2010 at 6:56 AM Report abuse +21 rate up rate down Reply
raearth3

If you voted for the health care bill-which not even the sponsor of the bill had read!-you deserve to lose. Nancy Pelosi said you had to pass the bill to find out what was in it-what kind of a moron votes for legislation that you don't understand-oh, wait that would be democrats. As for the provision about abortion it was bull and Obama's promise about an executive order was a sham designed to give blue dog Democrats cover. Re-elect these people at your peril.

October 18 2010 at 6:47 AM Report abuse +20 rate up rate down Reply
sidihigareda

Don't worry what the polls say, be sure you get youself out there and vote, this is not automatic just cause the polls say so. Two weeks to go and the polls will change everyday till then. Get your friends and neighbors, beat the bushes, get the vote out, it's not over.

October 18 2010 at 6:10 AM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply
Jay

Isnt it strange that a democrat who voted for the Obama haelth bill is suddenly out on his own with little or no hope of winning his job again?......I think not. He like many others will be paying for his mistakes this November.

October 18 2010 at 6:02 AM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply
Richard

SalveteAmici wrote: My take on the up and coming November 2nd elections. The Progressive Democrats are truly pulling out all the stops, for there can be no denying that what we are whitnessing all across the nation is an all out assault and destruction on our traditional values, character, history and way of life. The Progressive movement is destroying any and all in their way... Forget about the issues for the most part, as to where we are now or any plan...Throw anything up and see if it can stick...I wonder what the formerly named Acorn is planing now to muster up the votes? This Nov. 2nd vote, is more about President Barack Obama and his policies and direction that truly are destroying America...in my view...one step at a time. Ma. has never had more in current times, an opportunity to dramatically make a statement and join most Americans Coast to Coast North to South.... all across this nation...to boldly stand united and restore America to the ideals, and traditions, so many have fought, defended and died for.... Remember America...All those signs observed at the recent 'One nation Rally' in Washington and supported by this president/administration many representing Socialist and Communist groups...to name just a few!...Remember the increasing national debt....Remember the arrogance..of one party rule. Remember the corruption. Remember the almost total lack of transparency..all the promises as outright misinformation and downright lies. For as the saying goes:....'Remember in November' For as surely as all the stars where in line this last election with the election of President Barack Obama... the stars are all aligning one more....You Have The Power of The Vote. If you do not stand up now...do not complain ahead, for you never quite possibly have had another chance to remove to me this insidious cancer that will destroy America. ...SEIZE IT!

October 18 2010 at 5:06 AM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply
Andy

Appears to me the Politics Daily has gotten into local elections and is attempting to get a candidate reelected dispite the will of the people in Ohio. We will know in November, if this underhanded effort works. I realize PD is a left leaner (Time Warner and all that) but it is a shame that the media behaves in this manner. Let the American people decide, not the media.

October 18 2010 at 4:56 AM Report abuse +15 rate up rate down Reply
pinelog121

"tough votes on health care, changing our economy"? Yeah, you guys changed it alright, voted against the American people's wishes on health care, and then sent the economy right into the toilet with your massive government growth and unbridled spending. You wouldn't listen to "We The People" before, but it looks like you're hearing us loud and clear now! Good Riddance!

October 18 2010 at 2:59 AM Report abuse +16 rate up rate down Reply

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