TOLEDO – A bruising primary campaign and big spending by Democrats didn`t end up costing Republicans a seat in Congress that they`ve held for nearly 80 years.
Democrats were hoping to steal the seat from the GOP and make a big statement going into the 2008 election in Ohio.
Instead, Republican Bob Latta easily defeated Robin Weirauch in a special congressional election Tuesday. He`ll now complete the term of U.S. Rep. Paul Gillmor, who died in September from a fall at his Washington apartment.
Latta faced a stronger challenge than expected in northwest Ohio`s 5th District after winning a close primary race in November.
The son of a former Ohio congressman, he had 57 percent of the vote and Weirauch had 43 percent with 100 percent of the vote counted.
“I hope to continue representing this district in the same honor and integrity of Paul Gillmor and my father before him,” Latta said in a statement.
Democrats put a lot of time and money into the race, which the party had all but conceded in past elections. Gillmor`s death and the expected low turnout of a special election gave the Democrats hope.
“Bob Latta won this race despite all the firepower state and national Democrats could provide,” said Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $150,000 on ads trying to tie Latta to past GOP scandals in the state. Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland campaigned with Weirauch and appeared in one of her TV ads.
Latta had spent about $200,000 on TV commercials since the primary while the National Republican Congressional Committee chipped in $160,000 for spots.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said “the GOP had to scramble to win a special election that should have been a cake walk.”
Republicans now will have less money to spend on defending five congressional races in Ohio that the Democrats will be targeting next year, Redfern said.
The GOP holds a 10-7 edge in Ohio`s congressional delegation.
A win in the 5th District would have been a huge boost to their chances next November.
Weirauch, 50, was making her third run for the seat. She has never held a political office. Last year she received more votes – 43 percent – than any other Democrat in the district`s history.
“People will, at some point, recognize that whether they are a Republican, Democrat or independent, they will elect someone who will work for the people,” said Weirauch, who wouldn`t rule out another run for the seat in 2008.
Latta, 51, won the GOP nomination Nov. 6 following a bruising primary campaign with state Sen. Steve Buehrer.
The primary`s negative tone could have cost the party, Bennett said.
“This is still a race we could have lost,” he said. “Our candidate came out of a nasty primary wounded and broke.”
Bennett said the primary fight should serve as a warning. “Republicans cannot allow those nuclear primary tactics to continue if we expect to win future elections,” he said.
In the only other race nationwide, a Virginia Republican easily won election to Congress and will fill a seat left vacant by the death of Rep. Jo Ann Davis, who died of breast cancer in October.
The 5th District in northwest Ohio is conservative and traditionally Republican. No Democrat has won the seat since the 1930s.
Latta ran for Congress in 1988, trying to replace his father, Delbert Latta, who held the seat for 30 years. But he lost in the GOP primary to Gillmor by 27 votes.
He said that he will now focus on creating jobs and helping the nation become energy independent.
“We need to get down to the business of putting aside petty partisan politics and start addressing the issues of importance,” Latta said.
Gillmor`s term in the 16-county district runs until the end of next year.
Ohio elections officials reported no problems with voting machines unlike during the primary when glitches delayed vote counting for hours and forced the polls to stay open later.
When the congressional districts were redrawn before the 1992 elections, Gillmor`s 5th District grew to encompass 14 counties stretching from the Indiana state line all the way into southern Lorain County, where he represented Oberlin, Wellington, Grafton and all the southern townships. He also represented Vermilion residents.
He represented that area until another redistricting, before the 2002 elections, shifted a large part of Lorain County into the 9th District, including much of the southern portion of the county that Gillmor`s district used to encompass.