CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A substantial chunk of Ohio's 2nd Congressional District is in Appalachia and has a distinctly southern feel that includes tobacco farms. Democratic hopeful Steve Black has a new campaign manager who seems to be in sync with that culture. Joel Coon grew up in Mississippi, worked for presidential candidate John Edwards as deputy national rural liaison at the North Carolina headquarters this year, and was signed up when Virginia's Tim Kaine held on to the governor's mansion in that state. In 2006, Coon was in Texas' 14th District, where he ran 30-year-old cattleman Shane Sklar's failed bid to knock off Ron Paul.
Sklar was a conservative Democrat who opposed abortion and received the NRA's endorsement (Coon has since commented that the NRA did not endorse in TX-14.) That still wasn't enough to upend Republican maverick Paul, who now is a libertarian-leaning GOP presidential candidate.
OH-02 is now held by U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt, a conservative Republican who has a primary challenger in Phil Heimlich, a former Hamilton County commissioner who is running to the right to Schmidt. The district touches seven counties along the Ohio River. It starts east of downtown Cincinnati and is a melange of suburban and rural Ohio. It has always been considered an extremely conservative region. Coon told The Daily Bellwether he knows how to operate in that kind of environment.
"One thing is, you have to have a certain kind of Democrat, you have to find a Democrat that doesn't scare independent voters. You have got to have a moderate, but a moderate who is progressive on the right issues, like the war, like S-CHIP."
Coon said that he and Black both plan to emphasize trade as an issue in the months leading up to the March Democratic primary against Victoria Wulsin, a physician who was the OH-02 Demo nominee in 2006. He said he and Black have been closely studying Sherrod Brown's U.S. Senate campaign, which was largely a crusade against the loss of Ohio jobs to flawed foreign trade deals and offshoring.
"I think trade has to be a huge issue in general. Steve's going to push it. A lot of the eastern part of the district has been decimated. NAFTA is a disaster. We're looking at it. We're not trying to run a duplicate Sherrod Brown campaign. But he won 30 rural counties statewide that John Kerry didn't win, so our rhetoric is going to be very, very similar. Clearly people were listening to what Sen. Brown had to say last year. Sherrod Brown definitely was on to something, and Steve feels the same way that he does about good jobs going away with nothing to replace them."
Coon also said he isn't concerned that Black, a wealthy Cincinnati lawyer, was a Republican until just before he decided to run for Congress this year as a Democrat.
"I don't work for Republicans. Period. I vetted him pretty hard. He hadn't been comfortable in the Republican Party since the Reagan years. When the Republican Party started to be taken over by social conservatives, it made him extremely uncomfortable. Steve's conversion is real. He's a Democrat, and I think we can make our case that he's the correct person for the 2nd District."