Time to Double Down on Mary Jo Kilroy

Sep 08, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

Sunday, The Hill, while not explaining their methodology, weighed in with their picks for the 10 most endangered House Democratic freshmen, thereby letting Djou and Cao off the embarrassing hook.

The one liberal the loose-lipped DCCC leaky staffer threw under the bus is Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH). The rest on the endangered list are an assorted gaggle of the absolute worst, most reactionary Blue Dogs in Congress -- Bobby Bright (Blue Dog-AL), Travis Childers (Blue Dog-MS), Frank Kratovil (Blue Dog-MD), Glenn Nye (Blue Dog-VA) -- and a few hapless, right-of-center lightweights -- Betsy Markey (Blue Dog-CO), Tom Perriello (D-VA) Dina Titus (D-NV), Steve Driehaus (D-OH) and John Boccieri (D-OH). Most of those on the list are there because they've alienated the Democratic base by voting against the interests of ordinary working families. Kilroy is the glaring exception and deserves an extraordinary effort to save her seat from a sleazy bank lobbyist and protégé of John Boehner's.

Just last week, Jeremy Jacobs at Hotline On Call wrote about Mary Jo Kilroy's convincing path to victory. This D+1 Columbus-centric district, unlike many in Ohio, is far less vitriolically angry than the rest of Ohio, due to its slightly better economic circumstances buffeted by a regional banking industry, insurance and Ohio State University. The district was heavily gerrymandered by Republicans a decade ago, splitting the downtown urban core of Columbus between the 15th and 12th districts, giving the 15th the entire west side of the city, Franklin County as well as Union and Madison counties. About 85% of the entire vote comes from Columbus and Franklin County, the remaining 15% split between the very rural and much more Republican Union and Madison. Despite Republican attempts to protect two Republican districts, the 15th which was represented by Deborah Pryce until 2008, when Mary Jo beat career banking lobbyist Steve Stivers and the 12th represented by Pat Tiberi, the inner core of Columbus has become larger and more Democratic over time. The entire Ohio State University campus and most of its 50,000+ students reside in Mary Jo's district.

A Different Kind of Swing District: Dems insist that OH 15 isn't the battleground Republicans say it is for one main reason: It has been somewhat resistant to the national trends that have affected other competitive districts. Columbus is the one part of OH that is currently experiencing both population and economic growth. Further, unemployment is lower here than in the rest of the state.

This has been reflected in polling. A poll put out by the conservative American Action Forum found a few surprises in OH 15. First, there was an even split on support of health care reform-- one of Kilroy's top issues. 46% supported the legislation, 47% opposed it. In most other districts, health care reform performed significantly worse. More, Pres. Obama was viewed favorably by 49% and unfavorably by 46%. That's much better than he fared in other congressional districts in the same batch of swing-district polls.

That means that unlike other Dems in tough races, Kilroy won't have to run away from the White House. In fact, she's expected to get some campaign help from First Lady Michelle Obama.

Forgetting about Mary Jo Kilroy for a second, this district is strategically worth holding because next year Democrats have a good shot at retaining the state house in a redistricting year. Ohio will lose one, if not two congressional seats during redistricting and we have a better than average shot at carving out a safe Democratic seat in Central Ohio due to contraction. If that happens, we all want to see a good progressive in that seat, Mary Jo, not some mangy Blue Dog who votes with Boehner half the time.

Jacobs also points out the significantly better position Mary Jo is in when it comes to the polls. Kilroy's internals show the race is tied before positive and negative messages; she wins by 5 points after, and according to the Republican American Action Forum poll, Kilroy and her opponent Steve Stivers are statistically tied, with Stivers at 49% and Kilroy 44%. What is most shocking about this Republican poll is that they didn't include the two third party candidates, the Constitution Party's David Ryon or Libertarian Bill Kammerer, who will undoubtedly shave critical votes from Stivers. Frankly, if they had included the two third-party candidates, it's likely Mary Jo would be up a point or two, rather than down. Many have also pointed out that this poll's sample was heavily weighted towards conservatives and yet the poll showed that in Central Ohio, health care reform had a 47% positive, even with the poll's biases.

Jacobs also points to the fact that Central Ohio is going to be the battleground for both the Governor's re-election as well as Lt. Governor Lee Fisher's race against Rob Portman for Senate. Columbus is critical to both campaigns which will be dumping thousands of points of television on the air and will be running, along with Labor, a huge GOTV effort there. In one of the most amazing message match ups in the entire country, the Governor is running against John Kasich, a former Lehman Brothers executive and career-long Big Business shill, while Rob Portman was the architect of the Bush economy and currently a high priced K Street corporate lobbyist. Stivers, as we mentioned briefly before, is a banking lobbyist, who spent the majority of the 90's and early 2000's working to tear down banking regulations which directly led to the implosion of the economy. Think of it -- thousands of points of media time from Strickland, Fisher and Mary Jo in the Columbus market, each one going to reinforce the others' message and how GOP efforts to pass job-killing trade legislation and their financially catastrophic deregulatory agenda. It's almost sad that in today's Democratic party, such perfect message sync only happens by accident.

Mary Jo Kilroy can win this race, and must win this race. For anyone who wasn't with Blue America in 2008 when we helped her defeat Stivers the first time, let me tell you a little about her. Mary Jo Kilroy is one of us. She is personally progressive and her freshman term was spent creating the strongest possible Wall Street reform law. As a freshman, she served on the conference committee for Wall Street reform and worked hard to fight Dodd and others on the committee who wanted to shove through a weak bill. One of her amendments which made it into the final legislation puts credit rating agencies on the hook for the ratings they put on mortgage backed securities. For the very first time, the credit rating agencies can't rubber stamp AAA ratings on junk assets and sell them to our mutual funds, which was one of the key reasons our economy imploded. She was a huge proponent of a strong Consumer Financial Protection Board. She was also the first freshman, and one of the first members of Congress to stick her neck out in support of Elizabeth Warren's appointment to head the CFPB. She didn't have to do that. She did it because she thought it was right. Nor did she have to step out on a limb and endorse Justin Coussoule against John Boenher. But she joined Alan Grayson, Raul Grijalva, Barney Frank, Henry Waxman, Bob Filner and Earl Blumenauer in doing that. The difference -- she's the first member of the Ohio delegation to endorse a challenger in an uphill race, something the DCCC tells incumbents to not do. Another good reason to donate to her campaign.

Mary Jo is a strong supporter of the public option and has been one of the most vocal members on protecting Social Security. She was an original co-signer on the Grijalva letter to stop the cat food commission from enacting any cuts to Social Security benefits. She is also steadfast in her support of repealing the Bush tax cuts on the 2% richest Americans and we anticipate that she will be vocal in her support for the repeal this September.

Her opponent isn't just your run of the mill Republican either. He probably represents the worst of what we hate about elitist governance. He's a former banking lobbyist with a history of callously putting the desires of big special interests ahead of everyone else. One time, as a state Senator he registered his opposition to a bill to give consumers protection from predatory lending practices by saying, "You can't take away peoples' ability to screw up their own financial situation."

If that weren't enough, the man habitually twists and distorts the truth and has proven over and over again that he will say or do anything for a vote. In 2008 he ran as a "moderate," supporting the bank bailouts, economic stimulus, stem cell research and cap and trade. He has changed his views on each and every one of those issues and more. In 2008, at different times he came out for a national insurance exchange, insurance mandate, expanding high risk pools and tax breaks for small businesses to afford health care. Sound familiar? That's the health care reform bill. Today he is against it. In an attempt to curry favor with the tea party crowd, he filled out a questionnaire calling for the repeal of the 17th amendment, for the abolition of the (progressive) income tax in favor of a (regressive) flat tax and questioned the science behind man-made global warming. I'd love to believe he is a kook who really believes this stuff but I'm afraid the reality is darker. Steve Stivers has no principles; he's a liar and a Boehner minion who sold his soul for a shot at a congressional seat, and is dangerously close to winning it.

We need to support Mary Jo Kilroy. This is a seat we can win, and it is a seat we have to win.

Of the freshman Zeleny and Hulse speculate may be the victims of triage-- Betsy Markey (Blue Dog), Tom Perriello, Mary Jo Kilroy, Frank Kratovil (Blue Dog) and Patrick Murphy (Blue Dog)-- only Kilroy has been a remotely progressive voter. Are Van Hollen and Wasserman Schultz actually ready to abandon her for a two-faced banking lobbyist after she's poured her heart and soul into doing what's right in Congress? And her opponent vows to vote to repeal every reform that Congress has passed in the last two years. We'll do a formal Blue America session with Mary Jo again soon. Meanwhile, please make her feel at home of our endorsed candidates list.