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Government and Politics

How will the federal shutdown affect Ohio's big elections next year
Tea Party is getting blame for the shutdown, but safe districts mean Ohio's conservative congressional makeup is unlikely to change

Karen Kasler
Tea Party leader Tom Zawistowski says the shut down is good government.
Courtesy of File photo: Karen Kasler
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As the federal government shutdown drags on, polls are showing that voters are assigning blame more to one party -- the one that dominates Ohio these days -- than another.

And as Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler reports, some are already looking ahead to how the shutdown will play in next year’s big election.

Hear Kasler on how the government shutdown impacts Tea Party candidates

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Most credible nationwide polls are showing that overall, respondents blame Republicans more than Democrats or President Obama for the shutdown, and most surveys are also showing a strong streak of anger toward both parties for the situation. But a majority of those who identify as Tea Party members have responded that they support the shutdown.

Tom Zawistowski is one of Ohio’s most visible tea party leaders. 

“We think it’s a matter of good, sound fiscal policy and really the way government should work, because our representatives are listening to us. Speaker Boehner is listening to those representatives, and they’re acting the way the people want. And that’s the way the system is supposed to work,” Zawistowski said.

But an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week showed only one in five respondents have a favorable view of the tea party. And in Ohio, where Republicans dominated in the Congressional contests in 2010 and 2012, there’s a question of how the shutdown could affect candidates who call themselves tea Ppartiers or actively court the tea party vote. Mark Weaver is a Republican strategist. 

Safe districts play to conservative strengths
“Any Tea Party candidate that is likely to win is going to be in a district where they won’t have much of a general election, but they may have a primary election. And in primaries, the Democrats run to the left and Republicans run to the right. And that’s how you win a primary,” Weaver said.

Ohio’s Congressional map was redrawn in 2011 to set up safe districts. Among Ohio’s 16 Congressional District races last year, only one Republican and one Democrat had close primary contests – the rest won their primaries by blow-out numbers.

And in the general election, most of Ohio’s Congressional delegation won by double-digit margins. The closest race was between Republican Rep. Jim Renacci and Democratic former Rep. Betty Sutton – and Renacci won by 4 points.

The other race was the battle between Democratic former Rep. Charlie Wilson and incumbent Republican Rep. Bill Johnson. And that’s spawned an ad saying the following:  “Economists say Bill Johnson’s tea party shutdown could weaken the economy and devastate middle class families.”

Voters' short attention spans
But the liberal group that’s running that ad, Americans United for Change, may not stand much of a chance of unseating Johnson in favor of a Democratic candidate. He was one of those who had no trouble winning the primary. Chris Littleton is with the Ohio Liberty Council, a tea party group in southwest Ohio, and he says next year, the shutdown will be old news. 

“I don’t think it plays a tremendous role in the elections of 2014. We’ll have a new debate of the moment. Voters are fickle. They pay attention to the things that are most of the moment,” Littleton said.

And it seems unlikely there will be a bigger impact even beyond Ohio, because of the way districts have been drawn across the country.

Ohio State political science professor Paul Beck says nationwide, there are just 17 so-called “swing districts," where a Republican representative was elected in a district that also voted for President Obama. In the last government shutdown -- 16 years ago -- there were 79 swing districts.

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