It was going to be very difficult for a Democrat to beat U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson in the 6th Congressional District race.
But now that Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti of Poland has chosen not to challenge him, it’s going to be nearly impossible for a Democrat to unseat the six-term incumbent Republican.
The only hope Democrats had of beating Johnson, R-Marietta, was finding a moderate to conservative Democrat with name recognition and the ability to raise money who has a power base in Mahoning or Trumbull, the two most-populous counties in the new district.
There are very, very few people who fit that description.
Traficanti did, but even he realized it was going to be an extraordinary challenge to defeat Johnson.
Traficanti, who was first elected Mahoning County commissioner in 2004, often outperformed other Democrats when he was on the ballot. He’s proven to be such a strong name that he receives token opposition from Republicans in each of his elections.
Also, as a former top staff member to ex-U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., Traficanti still has ties to Washington, D.C., that would have provided the help he would have needed to at least force Johnson to put up a fight.
When I asked Traficanti if any other Democrat stood a shot against Johnson, he said: “I would have been the only Democrat in the area to have a chance to win. I had people from Trumbull to Jefferson (counties) urging me to run. You need a person with a name and a pocketbook. Bill Johnson has a lot of money and is the incumbent so he has the advantage. I can’t think of any Democrat who can challenge him.”
Neither can I.
Any thoughts of a liberal winning that district are naive.
Other moderate Democrats living in the district who’ve won in multiple counties are also passing on the race.
They include: John Boccieri of Poland, a former congressman, state senator and state House member; Sean O’Brien of Brookfield, a former state senator and representative who is running for Trumbull County Common Pleas Court judge; former Ohio Senate Minority Leader Capri Cafaro of Liberty; and Lou Gentile of Steubenville, a former state senator and House member.
They all recognize that the odds of a Democrat winning that seat this year are practically nil.
State legislative Republicans drew the district to be safe for Johnson, though not as safe as his current district.
The Republican-drawn congressional map is facing legal challenges so there’s the possibility the 6th District makeup could change. But there are areas of the state that attract much greater concern over gerrymandering than the Mahoning Valley.
Based on voting trends in partisan statewide elections during the past decade, the new 6th District is 55.81 percent Republican to 41.83 percent Democrat.
Johnson’s current 6th District is the most Republican in the state: 66.7 percent Republican to 30.96 percent Democrat. It didn’t start that way when Johnson first won in 2010, but a lot has changed in the past 12 years.
In the new congressional map, GOP legislators cut off the bottom part of Johnson’s district and gave him all of Mahoning — he’s represented a small number of residents there during his time in Congress — and Trumbull, which he’s never represented.
The two counties have traditionally been Democratic strongholds, but that control has weakened over the years.
Johnson would have been able to withstand a strong Valley Democratic challenge by keeping it close in Mahoning and Trumbull while getting huge wins in the rest of the district, which is heavily Republican.
A Democrat will step up to be the party’s candidate for the seat this year. But with Republicans expected to do well nationally and the way the congressional district lines are drawn, Johnson is a virtual shoo-in to get re-elected.
— Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle.