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Politics




Renacci and Sutton race becomes one of the country's most hotly contested
Jim Renacci and Betty Sutton trade blows via campaign ads
Story by BILL RICE
This story is part of a special series.


 
Democratic Congressional Candidate Betty Sutton (Left) and Republican Congressional Candidate Jim Renacci (Right)
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In The Region:

Ohio's race for the newly drawn 16th congressional district seat is attracting attention like few other House races. The two candidates could hardly be more different except that they are both incumbents.

Republican Jim Renacci is a freshman and Democrat Betty Sutton is in her third term. They face off in a district that includes a large portion of Cleveland's western suburbs, stretches southwest to Wayne County, and hooks around Akron to include parts of Stark and Portage counties. The district boundaries are said to favor Republicans, but there are indications the contest will be close.

From Ohio Public Radio, Bill Rice of Ohio Public Radio Station WCPN reports.

Bill Rice reports on Betty Sutton and Jim Renacci

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If you’re looking for commonalities between Jim Renacci and Betty Sutton, the most obvious would be in their upbringing.  Both came from working class families. “But their similarity pretty much ends there,” says David Cohen of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. “In just about every way, Betty Sutton and Jim Renacci are polar opposites.

Sutton comes from a quintessential Democratic mold.  Raised in the backdrop of working class suburban Akron, she is the daughter of a union boilermaker and a library clerk.  She worked her way through public university and law school, and has been a practicing labor attorney.  Her allegiance lies squarely with wage earners over what she tags as special interests and millionaires - as she told a group of police and firefighters in August.

 “Right now in Washington we have a controlling force that doesn’t fight for you the way you deserve,”says Sutton.”We have a Congress that would rather take the resources you need to buy new equipment and training, and sometimes save your jobs, and give to that multimillionaire or CEO, to that person that won’t play by the rules."

Candidate histories
Renacci’s roots are similar but he took a different path.  His father was a railroad worker, and he too attended public university near Pittsburgh, where he grew up.  But After graduating - he was the first in his family to do so - his career trajectory turned entrepreneurial.  He’s fond of telling that tale on the campaign trail.  Here he is at a recent rally with Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan:

 “I started in very poor, humble family, but I also understood what opportunity was.  At the age of 25, I took my personal resources - and you can ask my wife, because she was very scared - and I took those resources and I built a business.  Yes president Obama, I built it.”

That business, a nursing home, eventually grew into a chain of elder-care facilities.  In addition, he owns or has owned auto dealerships, sports teams and other businesses.  He’s a millionaire many times over - the 11th richest person in Congress - and his pro-business, anti-regulation stance is reflected in his top campaign donor list of PACs and corporations.  While Sutton gets some corporate money, the overwhelming majority of her top donors are unions.

Ad wars
Renacci’s coffers top Sutton’s - over $2 million in total to Suttons $1.5 million.  He also has an equal advantage in cash on hand.  The Bliss Institute’s Dave Cohen expects Renacc’s funding edge to hold through the election. “Betty Sutton certainly has the support of unions and other groups, but the money advantage clearly in 2012 is on the Republican side in this race,” says Cohen.

Both parties see this as an important race and are spending big bucks on ads on the candidates’ behalf.  The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has committed $2 million for ads on Sutton’s behalf.

Here is a sample of the first of the ads, which was just released: “I’ll never understand these guys in Washington - like Jim Renacci.  He voted against critical funding for life-saving breast and cervical cancer screenings.  Instead, he votes to give politicians perks - like tax-payer funded health care for life.”

That ad refers to Renacci’s vote to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization Sutton has always supported and is the nation’s largest providers of abortions, according to Congressional Quarterly.  Renacci is expecting about a million dollars in ad buys by the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.  Two weeks ago his campaign hit the airwaves with an ad that doesn’t mention Sutton specifically but is a shot at one of her signature causes, the federal bailouts of GM and Chrysler.

Here is a sample of the ad regarding a closed dealership:  “This dealership thrived in Northeast Ohio for almost fifty years.  It provided good jobs for hundreds of families.  But when President Obama’s government took over general Motors, they closed these doors forever.”

The dealership featured in the ad was Renacci’s own.

Different reads on the auto bailout
He wasn’t in Congress when it approved the auto bailout but he’s against it.  Sutton not only supported that - she authored the “cash for clunkers” bill that offered rebates to consumers who turned in their old cars for new, more fuel efficient ones.

On nearly every issue since Renacci’s election, the two candidates have taken opposing positions.  Free trade pacts with foreign countries, extending the Bush tax cuts for everyone, including the wealthy, rolling back environmental regulations, and repealing the federal Affordable Care Act.  Renacci voted for all of those, Sutton against. 

Renacci sums up his positions this way: “Big government, bailouts and Obamacare just aren’t working. The direction of President Obama and his allies, the direction they’re taking us is the wrong direction, and they’re bringing the American economy down on its knees.”

Sutton, conversely, believes government has a much larger role to play. “People don’t want a government on their back whether they are individuals or they are businesses,” says Sutton “but you do want a government on your side and that works in a way that helps to further our greater good and our collective strength as a nation.”

So, voters in the 16th Congressional District have a clear choice.  A challenge for both candidates is that they’ll be introducing themselves to many voters for the first time.  In the redrawn district, only about 20 percent of voters are currently represented by Sutton; Renacci currently represents about 50 percent.  All that money for TV ads will help, but the airwaves and cable channels are stacked with so many other political ads it’ll be hard for Sutton or Renacci to break through the clutter.

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