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Plenty of confusion in Ohio's redrawn 7th congressional district
Stark County, now cut into three districts, tries to figure out who will be their next congressman or woman
This story is part of a special series.

Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
Stark County will have three different congress members for the first time in history, so many voters are confused about both candidates in the 7th district race.
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Regardless of the outcome in the November 6th election, most voters in Stark County will have a new congressman or woman. That’s because Republican lawmakers redrew the state’s congressional map and for the first time in history, carved Stark County up into multiple districts.

So, even though Republican Bob Gibbs has been in Congress the last two years, voters in his most populous county don’t know anything about him.

WKSU's Amanda Rabinowitz tries to clear up the confusion in the 7th district congressional race. 
7th district congressional race audio

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Confusion in the 7th
Regardless of the outcome in the November 6th election, most voters in Stark County will have a new congressman or woman. That’s because Republican lawmakers redrew the state’s congressional map and for the first time in history, carved Stark County up into multiple districts. So, even though Republican Bob Gibbs has been in Congress the last two years, voters in his most populous county don’t know anything about him.

One of them is Fern Sibila of Massillon, who voted early at the Stark County Board of Elections. "I couldn’t understand… things seemed like they had been changed around a bit." 

Appealing to a new district
The candidates in the 7th district race, incumbent Republican Bob Gibbs and Democratic challenger Joyce Healy-Abrams, are hoping to change that. They’ve both been canvassing the new 10-county district that covers parts of Stark, Tuscarawas, Coshocton and Huron counties…and stretches north into Lorain County all the way to Avon.

"About 75 percent of the district is new, so people know him and the counties he lives and some of the areas he’s had before. Some folks know us as well from Stark County from our family’s service to the community, but we’re both unknown in several parts of the district," said Healy-Abrams.  

Healy-Abrams is the sister of Canton Mayor William Healy and son of former state lawmaker Bill Healy. And Canton is the largest city in the district. But when Republican state lawmakers built the new congressional map, they steered the new 7th district the GOP’s way. Some 56 percent of the voters in the new district went Republican in 2008. David Cohen of the University Of Akron Bliss Institute says that gives Gibbs a decided advantage.

"It was already a Republican-leaning district - it’s slightly more Republican-leaning now. You have certain very conservative counties that continue to be a part of the district, such as Holmes County, which is one of the most conservative counties in the entire state. I don’t think it necessarily changes what Gibbs has to do, it just means he has reintroduce himself," said Cohen. 

Gibbs runs on conservative message 
And, Gibbs is sticking with the message that got him elected two years ago. Beginning with his bio.

Gibbs is a Holmes County commercial hog farmer who was head of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, and a former state lawmaker. Gibbs says many in his old district and in the new one understand his call for limited government.

"Do you want a bigger government, a government that’s more centrally-located out of Washington, D.C. with policies, or do you want a government that’s a little smaller, that’s efficient and functioning well, but (that) let’s the American people have opportunities and trusts the American people to know how to invest their dollars and not rely on all this bigger and bigger government."

Healy-Abrams touts small business experience
His challenger Healy-Abrams touts her experience starting and growing her own business – handling records and file management -- with her husband in Columbus. They sold the business five years ago and moved back to her native Stark County.

"I’m a business person. I have a jobs plan, I can create jobs, I balance budgets, I managed payroll, I looked for credit to manage my business and I thought you know what? These skills might be helpful in Washington."

As with most campaigns these days, jobs are playing a big role. Both candidates say we need more of them. It’s what exactly that would take that separates them. Healy-Abrams wants tax credits for companies that buy American products or bring jobs back to the U.S.

We have deductions in our tax code that if you close your business, you can actually deduct that and then the jobs go overseas. Why are we incentivizing companies to do this? We need to get rid of that deduction, turn it upside down and bring in a tax credit for companies that want to bring companies to the United States. Let’s get those American companies back into the United States.

Gibbs, meanwhile, wants to decentralize the government’s role in small business.

"Just an attitude coming out of Washington that ‘one size fits all.’ And that we’re here to make it tougher for you. I hear from businesses all the time …Everyone wants clean air and water but let’s let the businesses make some money and do those things…and my 30 years in agriculture, in the years we didn’t make any money, we didn’t think about doing things on the farm to help protect the environment. But the years we were making some money, that gave us the resources to improve waterways and buffer strips."

Energy and Medicare
Gibbs has been a big backer of a second Keystone pipeline to bring tar-sands oil from Canada to Texas. "That moves 835,000 barrels of oil a day down to our refineries from Alberta, Canada. That’s a lot of jobs and that’s a lot less jobs and money that we’re sending overseas to areas of the world…some areas that don’t really like us. 

Healy-Abrams says she wants more research about the pipeline before she supports it, and wants to know exactly where the oil would go once it gets to the U.S. 

Energy is a big issue in Ohio, one Republicans have targeted as a winning issue for them. Democrats, meanwhile, have zeroed in on the budget drawn up by vice presidential candidate and Congressman Paul Ryan and passed by House Republicans. It includes major cuts in domestic programs and privatizes vMedicare.   

"Giving seniors a voucher to go in the private market to buy their own health insurance is not OK. And Congressman Gibbs thinks it is…he voted for that twice. He voted for $716 million dollars to be removed from Medicare twice…and he’s going to say otherwise."

Gibbs dismisses the description as a “voucher.” He says it’s a way to keep the program solvent by offering the option of private insurance. "The rationale here is that this brings more competition to the health insurance market, and it brings people, gives them an option, and gets free-market principles in to the system and not just one government-run system where you don’t have free-market principles."

Gibbs also argues that the budget deficit must be closed. "I’m proud of the fact that we were actually able to cut discretionary spending almost down to ’08 levels. The problem is that that’s only about 30 percent of the budget. The other 70 percent of the budget or so is on auto pilot. And the only way we get that under control is we have to go in and reform those programs. Doing nothing is not an answer anymore."

Gibbs wants to cut top tax rates from 35 percent to 25 percent and to continue Bush-era tax cuts for incomes above $250,000.

Healy-Abrams, meanwhile, brings the discussion back to jobs. "If we can create more jobs in our country, the tax base will increase. It’s not all about raising taxes; we don’t want to do that. But we also have to get rid of tax loopholes and subsidies. You know, when you’re at home and you’re going through a financial crisis, you’re not out there doing giveaways; you’re tightening your purse strings. And we have to do that at this time in our country in order to get through this deficit going forward."

Endorsements and debate 
Two of the region’s largest newspapers are split in their endorsements. The Plain Dealer endorses Gibbs, while the Canton Repository endorses Healy-Abrams.

The two will face off in one debate Tuesday at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. 

Related WKSU Stories

Rep. Bob Gibbs blames the EPA for spread of West Nile virus
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Stark voters want to hear about jobs, jobs, jobs
Monday, September 3, 2012

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