Kilroy-Stivers Rematch is Classic Left-vs.-Right Fight

September 12, 2010

After scratching out a razor-thin victory in one of the nation’s most competitive congressional districts two years ago, Mary Jo Kilroy went to Washington and quickly immersed herself in some of the most contentious issues of the day.

Unlike many other Democrats elected in swing districts, Kilroy did not shy away from taking liberal positions on issues. She was an enthusiastic backer of President Barack Obama’s health-care reforms and economic-stimulus package, voting to raise the debt ceiling to accommodate the spending. And she played a key role in crafting tough new regulations on Wall Street practices.

Kilroy’s supporters say she fits the profile of a hard-working, policy-oriented freshman. Backers of Republican rival Steve Stivers, however, say Kilroy has consistently sided with liberal interests in Washington, ignoring the centrist nature of a district that includes parts of Columbus, its western suburbs and rural Madison and Union counties.

Stivers wants this year’s election to be a referendum on Kilroy’s policies, particularly on the economy and federal spending. Kilroy wants it to be a referendum on Stivers himself and what he represents – seven years as a top lobbyist for a banking company.

“People in the 15th (district) have a very clear choice,” Kilroy said. “They can vote for someone who spent a career as a banking lobbyist and supported the kinds of policies that led to the recession and ‘too big to fail,’ or they can support someone who has been a watchdog and an advocate for the middle class. I think it makes a difference that people know I’m on their side.”

Stivers says the policies that Kilroy has championed have failed. He says the federal stimulus bill hasn’t produced private-sector jobs and has burdened future generations with debt. Many Kilroy-supported measures, such as the cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions, have hurt businesses and deepened the recession, Stivers said.

“Voters do have a choice: They can choose between someone who’s been a proven job creator and has been endorsed by the National Federation of Independent Business and the (U.S.) Chamber of Commerce, and someone who has killed jobs,” Stivers said. “She’s really out of step with this moderate district.”

Two years ago, Kilroy defeated Stivers by 2,311 votes out of more than 304,000 cast. Her margin was smaller than Obama’s in the district. The race also included two non-major-party candidates: a Libertarian and a socially conservative independent, who got nearly 27,000 votes combined. Some say that cost Stivers the race.

This year’s ballot will also include two minor-party candidates: David Ryon of the Constitution Party, who says he has a stronger gun-rights position than Stivers and is the only candidate to oppose abortion rights, and Libertarian William J. Kammerer. Neither has raised much money or been an active presence on the campaign trail.

Whether because of the conservative challengers or changes in the national mood, Stivers has adopted a notably more conservative profile this year. Although he continues to favor abortion rights, he points to his anti-abortion record as a state senator and “preferred” status – short of an outright endorsement – from Ohio Right to Life. Stivers also came out against the cap-and-trade bill this year after supporting the concept two years ago.

Kilroy calls Stivers a political opportunist. Stivers says he hasn’t changed his positions or his desire to find common ground with Democrats.

He also denies Kilroy’s charges that he would work to repeal the health-care and financial-regulation bills, saying he’d only strive to “fix” both of them.

Both candidates agree that the struggling economy will loom large in voters’ minds. So do their supporters.

“In spite of what I hear from the media, when (voters) get into the voting booth, how can they go back to voting Republican?” asked Dave Girves, a Kilroy supporter who lives on the Northwest Side. “They know what the past eight years were.”

Stivers backer Gladys Griffith, who is treasurer of the Madison County Republican Party, said dissatisfaction with the economy under Obama and the Democratic Congress should give Stivers the edge this year.

“I think (voters) are tired of the way the country’s been going right now and they want a change,” she said. “I really think Steve’s going to make it this time.”

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