Giving up safe seats for uncertainty

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 14, 2005

COLUMBUS (AP) - Two veteran Ohio members of Congress are trading a sure thing for anything but that.

Democratic Reps. Sherrod Brown and Ted Strickland are abandoning their safe House seats for statewide runs next year against formidable opponents.

Why would anyone who makes $162,100 a year, enjoys enviable perks and pension plans and the glamour of working in the nation's capital give it up to crisscross the state for a year and try to win seats that have been held by Republicans for years?

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Democrats feel emboldened by a $300 million investment scandal hounding the administration of Republican Gov. Bob Taft, who can't run again because of term limits.

The circumstances are right for Strickland and Brown to make their move, said Stuart Rothenberg, a Washington political analyst. The scandal and a bitter three-way GOP primary for governor give the Democrats a shot at success statewide after a 12-year shutout of executive offices.

‘‘It should be a great year for Democrats in Ohio. If Democrats can't win under these circumstances, they ought to just close the state party and open a bakery,'' Rothenberg said.

One reason so few Ohio members of Congress make the jump to a statewide race is recognition, Rothenberg said. In large states, representatives have constituents in their corner but are little-known elsewhere, making it difficult to raise the money needed to mount a statewide campaign.

Few sitting members of Congress in other states are running statewide. Republican Mark Kennedy is seeking an open U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota, and Democrat Jim Davis is running for the nomination for Gov. Jeb Bush's seat in Florida, another open race.

Strickland, a six-term representative, is running for governor. So are three veteran Republican state officeholders: Attorney General Jim Petro, Auditor Betty Montgomery and Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.

If successful, Strickland would take a $31,000 pay cut but get the governor's mansion, his own security and a taxpayer-funded driver in return. Brown would earn the same pay and change offices.

Brown, who is in his seventh term, wants the job of U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, who won his second term in 2000 with 60 percent of the vote.