U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. (Photo by Patrick Semansky-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — For Democratic voters in and around Cincinnati, this month’s primary contest in the state’s 1st Congressional District may seem like a choice between political twins.
On the ballot: two suburban moms with similar policy positions who are staking their campaigns on health care reform — an issue that motivated both to enter the race.
One candidate, Kate Schroder, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma about a decade ago and is now cancer-free. The experience gave her personal insight into problems with the nation’s health care system, not least of which is the fact that many people can’t access it, she told the Capital Journal.
“I know what it’s like to receive a diagnosis where access to health care is the difference between life and death,” she said in an interview. “I was lucky I had insurance, but so many people don’t” — leaving them and their families with “impossible choices.”
The other leading Democrat in the race — Nikki Foster — has a son who was born with a hole in his heart, an experience that she refers to as her “call to action.” She says she’s running to protect people with pre-existing conditions and to lower the price of prescription drugs to keep families with high medical costs out of bankruptcy.
The primary election will take place on March 17, and the winner will face GOP Rep. Steve Chabot in what is projected to be Ohio’s most competitive race for the U.S. House.
Both Schroder and Foster have stark policy differences with Chabot, a staunch conservative who has held the seat for nearly a quarter century.
“They both look like progressive Democrats,” Paul Beck, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, said of the two women. “I’m not sure that one is any more progressive than the other.”
The differences between the two are more about personal backgrounds.
Schroder is a health care advocate whose family has lived in the Cincinnati area for five generations. She lives in Hamilton County, a more liberal part of the district, and points to her “track record of experience” in the health care sector. She began her career as an aide to ex-Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, and was most recently vice president at the Clinton Health Access Initiative, a global health organization.
Foster, a senior customer program manager at GE Aviation, is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, the daughter of immigrants and the first in her family to graduate from college. She lives in Warren County, in a more conservative part of the district, and was her party’s nominee for a state legislative office in 2018.
She did not respond to requests for comment.
“They have slightly different strengths,” said Kevin Reuning, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio. Foster’s military background may resonate with some voters, while Schroder can tout her more extensive policy experience, he said.
Schroder has endorsements from the Hamilton County Democratic Party and numerous other local legislators, and Foster touts endorsements from groups such as VoteVets and Equality Cincinnati. Schroder has outraised Foster by a two-to-one margin. As of the end of last year, Schroder had raised $620,000 and had $343,000 in the bank, according to the Federal Election Commission. Foster had raised about $309,000, and had $113,000 in the bank.
“They’re both very qualified women,” said Bethe Goldenfield, chair of the Warren County Democratic Party, which has not made an endorsement in the race.
‘Hard incumbent to beat’
The winner will face a tough race against Chabot, who represents a district that President Donald Trump won by about 6 points in 2016 and who fended off a strong Democratic challenger in 2018. Chabot has raised $1.4 million this cycle and has about half as much in the bank, according to his end-of-the-year fundraising report.
The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan campaign newsletter, gives him a slight edge in the general election this fall, and Reuning called him “a hard incumbent to beat.”
Camille Gallo, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Campaign, said Chabot “survived last cycle’s challenge in a wave election year and will have no problem this year, especially with Trump at the top of the ticket.”
But national Democrats see opportunity in Ohio’s 1st District, where Chabot won in 2018 with 52 percent of the vote, his lowest percentage since 2010.
The suburbs are trending blue, and this district is no different, said Sarah Guggenheimer, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). It is one of two seats in the state targeted by the DCCC; the other is the 12th District in the suburbs of Columbus, which is currently held by GOP Rep. Troy Balderson.
Chabot also faces questions over recent campaign finance filings that don’t account for more than $100,000 in campaign funds. A federal investigation is underway, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Chabot’s lawyer said in a statement last fall that he and his campaign appear to be “victims of a financial crime” and are working to resolve the matter.
When asked about the election on Capitol Hill this week, Chabot told the Capital Journal he feels “confident but never overconfident. I look at every race and take every race seriously, and this one’s no different.”
Washington Bureau Chief Robin Bravender contributed to this report.
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