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Dems look for Johnson challenger

All of the Mahoning Valley is in a congressional district that clearly favors Republicans.

But between the map and 2022 looking like a good year for Republicans, several top Democrats in the new 6th Congressional District, which has Mahoning and Trumbull as its two most-populous counties, aren’t planning to challenge six-term incumbent Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, for the seat.

Even though the two counties, which were once reliable Democratic areas, make up about 55 percent of the new 6th District’s population, Johnson has a clear advantage against any Valley Democrat.

This is assuming the Republican-drawn congressional map is upheld by the Ohio Supreme Court.

First, the new district would be 55.81 percent Republican to 41.83 percent Democrat with the rest going to other political parties based on voting trends during partisan statewide races over the past decade.

This is a far cry from Johnson’s current district, which is 66.7 percent Republican to 30.96 percent Democrat with the rest going to other political parties, but that is the most Republican district in the state.

Any Democrat would start with a disadvantage among voters.

Interestingly, this district would have been solid blue as recently as 2008.

Mahoning and Trumbull voted much more heavily Democratic then while a number of the other counties in the district — most notably Jefferson and Belmont — were also reliably Democratic. Even Columbiana was a swing county.

But everything south of Mahoning is now strongly Republican.

Republicans are expected to do well in next year’s elections nationally.

For several years, the party that controls the White House does poorly in the congressional election following the presidential race.

Also, Ohio Democrats have failed to announce candidates for several statewide offices next year, which will drag down the rest of the party’s ticket.

Johnson was first elected in 2010, two years after Democrat Barack Obama was elected president, in a very successful year for Republicans.

With Obama’s policies, particularly on health care, unpopular at the time, candidates such as Johnson were swept into office. He beat two-term Democrat Charlie Wilson by 4.04 percent.

Johnson has since put Democratic challengers in a stranglehold to the point that he received token opposition last year and won by an incredible 48.82 percent over Democrat Shawna Roberts. (You can read my profile of Johnson in Sunday’s paper.)

There are a number of very good Democratic candidates who could give Johnson a challenge next year if it didn’t look like such a strong Republican year.

But many won’t run.

Among them are: former Ohio Senate Minority Leader Capri Cafaro of Liberty; Lou Gentile of Steubenville, a former state legislator; Sean O’Brien of Bazetta, a former state legislator who plans to run next year for Trumbull County Common Pleas Court judge; and John Boccieri of Poland, a former congressman and state legislator.

“It speaks to the extreme gerrymandering of these districts,” Boccieri said. “Republicans have relegated Democrats to superminorities. I’ve won in a Republican-leaning district in the past. These congressional districts they’ve drawn are not fair. I’d like to serve again some day, but right now this Republican map is not the one I want to run under.”

There is one prominent Democrat who is interested in the seat, but isn’t ready yet to commit.

That’s Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti of Poland, who was first elected to the seat in 2004.

Traficanti, who often outperforms other Democrats in the county when running against competition, said: “I’m seriously looking at it. I haven’t made a decision. I think I’d be a formidable candidate.”

Before he was a commissioner, Traficanti worked 11 years for former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. as his regional director, chief of staff and congressional liaison. During that time, the district included all of Mahoning County and large portions of Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

“I’ve had a lot of phone calls asking me if I’d consider running for this,” Traficanti said. “It was drawn as a Republican district, but I’m a moderate. I’m a Democrat, but I have a lot of conservative values. It’s a big decision, and I want to make sure it’s the right move.”

Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairwoman Joyce Kale-Pesta said: “Anthony Traficanti is a great vote getter. He’d be a great congressman. He knows Washington politics.”

Traficanti said he’ll have a decision no later than Jan. 1.

If Traficanti decides not to run, Democrats will have few, if any, viable options.

Skolnick covers politics for The Vindicator and the Tribune Chronicle.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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