May 23, 2005

2nd Congressional District (OH) GOP Primary: An Attempted Coronation for Bouncin’ Bob McEwen

Filed under: OH-02 US House — Tom @ 8:33 am

JUNE 8 UPDATE: Subsequent to this post, the McEwen campaign released information concerning McEwen’s “clearance” in the House Bank scandal. My response to that release is at this post: “2nd Congressional District (OH) Race: Voters Fired McEwen AFTER His “Clearance” Was “Common Knowledge.”

May 27, 12:20 Update: Revised the description of 1993 GOP special primary below based on further research.

May 26, 9 PM Update: Red State’s Michael Meckler comments on the race’s players.

May 25, 5:15 PM Note: I spoke with Mr. McEwen and have corresponded with one of his campaign workers. In light of those communications (blogged here), in which both parties claim that McEwen was “exonerated” in the House Bank Scandal, I have suggested that they post evidence to that effect on their web site. Although McEwen has for the moment refused to do so, I’m in “show-me” mode on the House Bank Scandal issue for the time being. My objections to his lack of presence in the district, the outside impositions by “moral” leaders and Washington insiders, and the political damage, both past and potentially current, McEwen has wrought or may bring about, still stand.

May 25 AM Note: Just removed the question mark on the entry title. There is NO DOUBT that “moral” leaders and Washington Insiders are attempting a coronation here.

Note to blog readers: I live in this congressional district and am troubled by what I see happening in this election, so please forgive the temporary parochial tilt. Besides, I would argue that this post says a lot about how “business” is done in Washington today. Also, I have given no money, and don’t plan to give any money, to any of the candidates in this race, and have not decided who I will vote for on Primary Day.

I caught this at Red State (second paragraph) in mid-April and didn’t think much of it (the link to the District map in the quote was added by me-while there, note the absurd statewide gerrymandering):

Former Congressman Bob McEwen wants his old job back. Thursday McEwen announced his candidacy for the G.O.P. nomination to succeed newly-appointed Trade Representative Rob Portman as the representative for the heavily Republican 2nd Congressional District. Portman has been nominated by President Bush to become the next U.S. trade representative. As in 1993, when he lost to Portman in a primary, McEwen has had to buy a home in the district to establish residency. Observers view McEwen and Ohio state representative Tom Brinkman as vying for the support of social conservatives, who are not particularly happy with the perceived front-runner in the G.O.P. primary, Hamilton County Commissioner Pat DeWine.

Maybe DeWine (son of Senator Mike DeWine) was the perceived favorite then, but I get the sense that this race is wide open. Anyone who can mount a credible three-week radio and TV blitz and drown out his or her opponents can take advantage of what will almost certainly be a low-turnout primary on June 14 and win. (The 2nd District is drawn in such a way that the GOP primary winner, assuming he or she still has a pulse, will be a heavy favorite to win the August 2 Special Election.)

So when I first heard expensive talk-radio ads for McEwen on Friday, the antennae went up.

It turns out that Bouncin’ Bob has assembled quite a list of heavyweight endorsements: James Dobson, Paul Weyrich, Jack Kemp, Ed Meese, Anthony Munoz, and numerous other Christian and prolife bigwigs. I suspect that quite a stash of campaign cash has accompanied some of these endorsements.

What in the world is going on here? Why is the GOP establishment lining up behind Bouncin’ Bob McEwen?

Oh, you want to know why I call him Bouncin’ Bob? (full bio is here)

McEwen was first elected to represent Ohio’s Sixth Congressional District in 1980. The bio link overlooks McEwen’s brief candidacy for Ohio Governor in 1989; he bowed out to give then-Cleveland Mayor and now (supposedly) GOP Senator George Voinovich an uncontested shot at the office. By 1990, after several reelections, McEwen was riding high in Washington. He was among the most vocal supporters of the first Gulf War, and was on network TV frequently during that time. He was considered among the GOP’s rising stars.

Until the House Bank Scandal broke.

First, a brief history lesson (bolds are mine):

(On April 1, 1992), the House Ethics Committee released a list of the twenty-two most flagrant abusers of the defunct House bank. The bank, which had been closed in the fall of 1991, was not a financial institution, but rather served as a common place for legislators to tuck their paychecks. The representatives in question were accused of overdrawing on this collective account. But, though the legislators’ habit of overdrafting neither violated the bank’s rules nor led to the loss of federal money, it reeked of fiscal irresponsibility and stirred yelps of protest from the American public. The House Ethics Committee held that legislators who had overdrafted on their payroll deposits for a minimum of eight months out of a sample thirty-nine-month stretch were indeed in the wrong. The committee’s findings, as well as the decision to name names, sent Capitol Hill into a tizzy. A number of the legislators fingered on the list lashed out at what one accused representative deemed a “libelous indictment.” But, such protests did little to quell the controversy: during the ensuing months, the committee revealed that some 350 former and current House members had written bad checks (note: amounting to at least $10.8 million, an average of $30,000 per offender). With the public outcry hardly abating, fifty-three representatives tendered their resignations by May 4 of that same year.

Bouncin’ Bob’s involvement was heavy and his response to getting caught was, to say the least, disappointing (bold mine):

McEwen was caught up in the House Bank scandal. Initially he denied bouncing any checks, then he admitted maybe he had bounced a few, and then it was revealed to have been more than a hundred.

Actually, it was 166 (go to Page 6 at link).

McEwen was clearly in the obstructionist camp against telling the voters just how pervasive the abuse was. Look at his 1992 voting record (see votes 46 and 47) yourself, and you’ll see that he voted against the compilation and release of the “39-month stretch” of records referred to above.

Bouncin’ (and now Bullheaded) Bob should have resigned. Instead, he used what was left of his incumbency advantage to narrowly defeat a better opponent in the 1992 GOP primary. As Bill Clinton won his first presidential term, McEwen lost the Sixth District (redrawn after 1990) to a Democrat. The re-gerrymandered Sixth District (redrawn after 2000) is now firmly in Democrat hands. The current occupant, and the original vanquisher of Bouncin’ Bob, is none other than John Kerry’s duck-hunting partner Ted Strickland, who now has his sights set on the Ohio governor’s mansion. Thanks, Bob.

The quote at the top about McEwen’s 1993 drive-by primary run in the Second District against Portman failed to note that Bouncin’ Bob got stomped in Hamilton County, actually finishing a distant third countywide. Though he won the other four less-populated rural counties in the district, overall, McEwen finished second (35.61% Portman, 29.54% McEwen). The Wikipedia entry on McEwen’s career is here.

It shouldn’t surprise you that I probably wouldn’t vote for Bouncin’ Bullheaded Bob McEwen if he was the only person on the ballot. I can forgive him for what he did and said 13 years ago, and wish him luck with the rest of his life, which appears to have been quite prosperous, fulfilling, and even exemplary. But forgiveness doesn’t require me to return him to Congress, and I won’t support that.

But now, here are the things I REALLY don’t understand about this race:

  • How can the above Who’s Who of so-called moral leadership sign on to McEwen’s candidacy? Is this election about who can be most easily “managed” by the national GOP leadership, or is it about who is the best person to represent the voters of the Second District?
  • And how did this come together so quickly? In addition to the Who’s Who, Bouncin’ Bob appears to have lined up a surprising number of grass-roots workers in the snap of a finger. It almost makes you wonder if the President’s selection of Portman as Trade Rep was the “surprise” everyone claimed it was when it was announced. I suspect the Trade Rep deal may have been done shortly after the November election, and that Washington-insider McEwen may have had a few months to lay his heavy-hitter foundation of support.
  • Why should the voters of the Second District support a guy who only moves into the District when he sees an opportunity to return to Washington? The McEwens closed on their condo purchase on April 11, 2005 (note: McEwen lists his address at the bottom of his personal home page, so no one’s privacy is being violated). Bouncin’ Bob will have been in the Second District all of 64 days when the primary is held. If you’re keeping score, that’s 18 fewer days than Alan Keyes was in Illinois before he got thumped by Barack Obama in that state’s US Senate race last year.
  • Oops, did I say “return to Washington”? Silly me. I meant “return to Congress.” McEwen’s own blog refers to a newspaper item (bolds mine) noting that he is “a Hillsboro Republican who has spent most of his time in the Washington area since leaving Congress 12 years ago.” Hillsboro is NOT in today’s 2nd District; for the geographically impaired, neither is Washington. Can you say “opportunist”?
  • Why should the voters give McEwen any kind of second chance when there are plenty of candidates with similar philosophies who only lack equivalent experience in writing NSF checks?
  • I don’t see any contrition here when (again, from his blog) one of Bouncin’ Bob’s big “selling points” is “He has 10 years of experience in the House and as a result, can automatically qualify for leadership positions.” If he regretted his past conduct, he’d agree to start out with zero seniority, wouldn’t he? (aside–in what other occupation can you be gone for 12-plus years and not lose seniority?)
  • And, finally, where is the money coming from to finance McEwen’s campaign? It looks like we won’t know much until June 2nd (bounteous thanks to Mike Krempasky of for finding this link), which is a scant 12 days before the election, though we could learn of contributions of $1,000 or more a bit sooner. The FEC web site currently shows no contributions to McEwen, DeWine, or Brinkman (I didn’t check the others-links provided are McEwen’s) from their committees, from other committees, or from individuals. From here, it appears that McEwen may be the only one with the bucks to sustain consistent radio and TV ads through Primary Election Day (DeWine may be an exception). This is why the question about funding sources, especially if McEwen’s money is mostly from GOP outsiders attempting to impose their will on Second District voters, is important.

If Chicago Democrat Dan Rostenkowksi, who was irreparably tainted by the House Post Office Scandal (3rd paragraph at link) and other matters during the same corrupt era, and who was voted out in the “Contract With Amercia” election of 1994, were to try to run again, I believe McEwen’s Moral Who’s Who above and his grass-roots supporters would (correctly) be beside themselves with indignation. So why does Bouncin’ Bob deserve a pass? I (obviously) believe he doesn’t.

This primary should be about injecting fresh new candidates and ideas into a district that has its share of problems, especially in its central and eastern rural areas. It shouldn’t be a carpetbagging pickup for a thinly-disguised Washington insider who deservedly lost his seat over a decade ago, but apparently has never lost his sense of entitlement.

UPDATE: Welcome Wizbang readers. I’ll be checking out Wiz’s comments section to see if anyone has a good defense for the “moralist” support for McEwen.

UPDATE 2: Yikes! There are eleven Republicans on the primary ballot. The possibility that Bouncin’ Bob can win on name recognition and short memories looms large.

UPDATE 3: Full text of Dobson’s endorsement “as a private citizen” is here. Dobson says that “Bob McEwen’s campaign represents a unique opportunity to return a proven leader to Congress.” My posterior; it may be a “unique opportunity” to lose a seat that should be safe to the other party, and to set off a wave of “Bush is failing, the country is rejecting the theocracy” hysteria in the MSM. Does anyone remember what Dick Thornburgh’s 1991 loss to Harris Wofford in the Pennsylvania Senate Special Election did to Bush the Elder, and for Bill Clinton?

UPDATE 4: Sierra Faith says: “(McEwen) loves the Washington, DC game (not the accountability obviously), and is banking (pun intended) that his former constituents have lousy memories.”
In a later e-mail, S-F adds “Why does the GOP set itself up for the well-deserved hypocrite label when it’s not necessary? Don’t know DeWine (not fond of his dad) nor Brinkman, but the only thing I can think of is that folks see McEwen as the real pro-lifer, and are willing to damage that cause by supporting someone who used the taxpayers as his private slush fund (purposefully or not).”