Congressional hopeful using mortgage in race

Sunday, April 19, 1998


BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For most people, taking out a second mortgage on the family home is serious business.

It is something reserved for times of dire need.

We can see why people would do this to, for instance, pay for the kids' college education.

That is something of value. That is something worth going into debt for.

But ask Frank Cremeans of Gallipolis, Ohio, why he took out a second mortgage on his Gallia County homestead and he will tell you, point blank, that he did it so he would have money to run for Congress. Mr. Cremeans has been in Congress before, and he wants to go back very badly. Very badly, indeed.

Two years ago, the Gallipolis Republican was the congressman from Ohio's 6th Congressional District, that monstrous piece of real estate that stretches across southern Ohio from Lebanon to Marietta.

Mr. Cremeans had won the seat two years before, as part of the Republican landslide that gave the GOP control of the House and made Newt Gingrich speaker.

He beat Ted Strickland, a Lucasville psychologist and ordained minister who had taken the seat away from Republican Bob McEwen in 1992. In 1996, Mr. Strickland sent Mr. Cremeans back to his concrete business in Gallipolis, winning 51 percent of the vote.

Wants seat back

Late last year, Mr. Cremeans decided that he wanted his seat back. But the Ohio Republican Party establishment decided they did not want Mr. Cremeans back.

Everybody from Ohio Gov. George Voinovich to U.S. Rep. John Boehner, the West Chester Republican who ranks fourth in the GOP House leadership, wanted Lt. Gov. Nancy Hollister, the former mayor of Marietta, instead.

Suddenly, Mr. Cremeans found that the Republican money in southern Ohio and elsewhere had dried up. Around this time two years, Mr. Cremeans was supporting Steve Forbes over Bob Dole for the GOP presidential nomination, at a time when the entire party establishment in Ohio was on the Dole bandwagon.

Mr. Forbes had been expected to help Mr. Cremeans raise a good deal of money, but now, Mr. Forbes, who still wants to be president, is spending more time in northern Kentucky with his new friend, congressional candidate Gex Williams. He seems to have lost Mr. Cremeans' address.

Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition head who is now a high-priced Republican political consultant, pledged his fealty to Mr. Cremeans early on, but the price tag for his service proved to be too high, and he and Mr. Cremeans parted company.

Last week, when congressional candidates filed their reports of fund-raising and expenditures with the Federal Elections Commission, Mr. Cremeans reported raising a mere $1,750.

That might buy you a fair amount of advertising on a Jackson County radio station, but 80 percent of your listening audience would be milk cows; and bovine turnout in Republican primaries is historically low.

It soon became apparent to Mr. Cremeans that nobody was going to give him money to chase his dream. The fix was in. The GOP sachems in Columbus and Washington had decided Ms. Hollister was the one to take on Ted Strickland in 1998. Mr. Cremeans disagreed; so he resorted to drastic measures.

As of March 31, Mr. Cremeans' campaign was $318,151.41 in the hole -- most of it money that he lent to his campaign committee, including the proceeds from the second mortgage on his house. His campaign had $285,045 in the bank, but if he spends it in his attempt to beat Ms. Hollister, he could end up having one whale of a time trying to pay himself back.

A tough decision

Most rational people would look at what Mr. Cremeans has done in taking out a second mortgage on the family home and conclude one of two things:

  1. He is an extraordinary man of principle who is willing to go to any lengths to fight for his conservative beliefs; or

  2. He's nuts.

Mr. Cremeans is hoping the good people of the 6th District choose the former.

Howard Wilkinson's column runs on Sundays. Call 768-8388 or send him e-mail at hwilkinson@enquirer.com.



[an error occurred while processing this directive]