Monday, January 01, 2001

Redistricting will help Chabot

        Ohio's 1st Congressional District will never be the same. And what a shame it is, too.

        Such a quirky little congressional district, full of inner-city neighborhoods and well-scrubbed suburban cul-de-sacs, from Avondale to Covedale, from Greenhills to Western Hills.

        But changed it will be. Loaded up with lots of Republicans, so that no Democrat in his or her right mind could even think about winning it.

        You see, Ohio is going to lose a congressional district in the next election. Not the 1st, where Republican Steve Chabot has ruled since 1994.

GOP domination
               Because the redrawing of congressional district lines will be done by an Ohio General Assembly controlled by Republicans, some incumbent Democratic congressman is going to take it in the neck — probably Sherrod Brown, whose northern Ohio district may be melded into Democrat Dennis Kucinich's district next door.

        Then, Mr. Brown will have a choice to make: He can either take on Mr. Kucinich in a Democratic congressional primary or follow through on his not-so-secret desire to run for Ohio governor.

        It was Bob Taft, the present Republican governor, who 10 years ago took away Mr. Brown's job as Ohio secretary of state, and you don't have to be named Bush to want some political revenge.

        But once the gleeful statehouse Republicans finish atomizing Mr. Brown's congressional district, they will likely turn their attention to the south, where Mr. Chabot's 1st District lies and where, every two years, he has had to run the gantlet in his less-than-solid district to keep his job.

        He's survived challenges from the big-name mayor of Cincinnati and a no-name rookie, but never with more than 53 percent of the vote and never without spending one great big boatload of money.

        Some GOP leaders would like Mr. Chabot to be able to start saving his money.

        So, they will likely peel away tens of thousands of reliably Republican voters from the next-door 2nd District of U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, who is re-elected every two years by near-acclamation.

        Mr. Portman's irregularly shaped district takes in eastern Hamilton County, half of Warren, Clermont, Adams and Brown and then finds a narrow land bridge to connect it to places like Harrison and Whitewater Township, which might as well be on the moon.

A matter of turf
               Mr. Chabot is going to get some of that territory; it's just a matter of where. Mr. Portman hopes it is not areas he is particularly fond of, close in to Cincinnati. The west end of the district, he could probably live without.

        The change, when it comes, will be good for Mr. Chabot, but it might turn a district that once produced classic, 15-round barn-burning contests into a snoozer that would put you to sleep faster than an Al Gore speech.

        It would go from being a district that, in the last three presidential elections, voted for Bill Clinton and Al Gore while at the same time elected a Republican congressman who thinks Tom DeLay and Dick Armey are too liberal.

        You have to love a district like that.

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