By Robert Wang
CantonRep.com staff writer

CANTON Ken Harbaugh’s first challenge in running in 2018 to represent Canton and most of Stark County in Congress might not be establishing name recognition.

It might not be raising the millions of dollars necessary to wage a competitive contest in the 7th Congressional District. It’s an area that includes parts or all of 10 counties and stretches from Lorain County, where Harbaugh lives, all the way south to Coshocton County.

It might not be running as a Democrat in a district Republican state legislators drew in 2011 to benefit their party.

It might not be potentially facing U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Lakeville, a four-term incumbent from Holmes County who’s won his re-election contests by wide margins.

No, the Avon man’s first challenge might be voters confusing him with Jim Harbaugh, head football coach at the University of Michigan.

“At least it’s not the Steelers, right?” Ken Harbaugh quipped Thursday as he kicked off his campaign in Canton. “‘Ken. Not Jim.’ Let’s hashtag that.”

Harbaugh started his bid for elected office by working with volunteers to clear tree branches and leaves from Monument Park near the McKinley National Memorial, said his wife and campaign spokeswoman Annmarie Kelly-Harbaugh. She said his campaign filed the paperwork declaring his candidacy the same day with the Federal Elections Commission.

Harbaugh, who served in the U.S. Navy as a reconnaissance plane pilot, said he decided to run the morning after President Donald Trump was elected in November. He said his wife encouraged his decision by telling him, “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”

“First, I’m running for Congress because I love my country. I have fought for this country,” Harbaugh said. “I have risked my life for this country, and I fear that it is breaking from the inside out. ... (We) have folks in Congress like Bob Gibbs who put party before country, who put self above service. ... (He) votes in lockstep with the Republican leadership.”

Harbaugh said “if this Gibbs-Trump plan (the Republican-backed American Health Care Act) becomes law,” then “23 million Americans ... are going to be hung out to dry.”

Background

Harbaugh, 43, a father of three, said that to run for Congress he stepped down last week as president of Team Rubicon Global, a not-for-profit in Los Angeles that trains veterans to be rescue workers and deploys teams around the world to provide assistance after natural disasters.

Harbaugh said he never has run for public office. His wife is a Medina County native whom he met in college.

Harbaugh said he was born the son of a U.S. airman in Colorado Springs. His childhood was spent in 10 or more locations around the country and abroad as his father was deployed by the Air Force. He said he graduated from high school in Montgomery, Ala.. He is a 1996 graduate of Duke University.

He said he spent nine years as a U.S. Naval officer, while stationed in Pensacola, Fla., and piloting reconnaissance planes in the Pacific near North Korea and China in addition to the Middle East before he left as a lieutenant in 2005. Harbaugh said he then attended Yale Law School, graduating in 2009. He’s never practiced law. Since then, he has lived in Virginia, Chagrin Falls in Cuyahoga County, Los Angeles and the past year in Avon.

Lorain County Board of Elections records say Harbaugh voted in the general election in November. He doesn’t recall ever voting in a party primary in Ohio. Harbaugh said he voted for Democrats Barack Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Response

A representative of Gibbs’ campaign could not be reached Thursday for comment.

Chris Martin, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, issued this statement: “As a farmer and small-business owner, Congressman Gibbs understands firsthand the challenges faced by his constituents in the 7th District. We are confident his strong, conservative record on tax reform and agriculture issues will be rewarded by voters in 2018.”

Reach Repository writer Robert Wang at (330) 580-8327 or robert.wang@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @rwangREP