Photo by Kirk Jackson

Official Annoucement

Ken Harbaugh, former naval pilot and nonprofit executive, to challenge U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs in 2018K

Ken HarbaughKen Harbaugh (Harbaugh campaign photo)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Democrats would have you believe that a backlash to President Donald Trump will inspire high-caliber, first-time candidates to come out of the woodwork and, in part by competing in Republican-leaning districts, help them take back the U.S. House in 2018.

Ken Harbaugh, an Ivy League-educated, former U.S. Navy pilot who lives in Avon, will put that theory to the test.

Harbaugh, 43, on Thursday declared his candidacy to challenge sitting U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, of Holmes County, in Ohio's 7th Congressional District. Generally, a Democrat winning in Ohio 7, which is widely seen as a safe Republican seat, would be a longshot to say the least -- Gibbs won re-election by 35 points last year, and Trump won by 30 points.

But Harbaugh, a first-time candidate, is quitting his job as president of Team Rubicon Global, a nonprofit that deploys military veterans as emergency first responders around the world, to focus on the race full-time. He holds a law degree from Yale University, studied at Oxford University while he was an undergraduate at Duke University, and while spending nine years in the U.S. Navy, taught naval history at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, according to his campaign. 

Harbaugh told cleveland.com he decided to run after talking to his wife and daughters the morning after Trump's victory. He said he has concerns about Trump's rhetoric and his judgment as a military commander, and fears his healthcare plan, which Gibbs and other House Republicans voted for, would worsen Ohio's opioid crisis by making cuts to Medicaid.

"I had thought about it before in sort of a 'what if' kind of way, but not seriously. But that was a very serious conversation," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh, who grew up in a military family, moved with his family to Avon in 2009. His wife, Annmarie, an author who also is serving as his communications manager, is from Medina County.

He describes his approach to the race in practical, military terms. Harbaugh's newly launched campaign website doesn't describe his position on "issues" -- it describes "values" that revolve around kitchen-table issues like healthcare, jobs and education, rather than social issues that may alienate conservative voters.

"I think it goes back to this idea of duty and country above party, and the realization that unless folks like me step into the breach, that we're going to get more of the same," Harbaugh said. "And I think more of the same is a Congress that puts party above country, and self above service."

ADVERTISING

More about Ohio's 7th district

The sprawling district contains 10 counties, including rural, mid-Central Ohio areas like Ashland, Coshocton and Holmes counties, and parts of Lorain County and Canton's suburbs.

It's widely seen as a safe Republican district. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has named it as one of the top 25 most Republican-trending in the country, and says Republicans have a +12 advantage there, meaning the district makeup is 12 percentage points more Republican than the national average.

Gibbs has cruised to re-election each year since he first won in 2010, defeating Dover Democratic U.S. Rep. Zack Space amidst a Tea Party-inspired wave election. The district since has been redrawn, making it more Republican-friendly. But Democrats theorize that Gibbs is vulnerable if there is a backlash to Trump and congressional Republicans, if the right candidate steps up.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in January named District 7 as one of several dozen districts the group, which campaigns on behalf of congressional Democrats, is targeting nationally.

There is limited recent evidence a Democrat can be somewhat competitive in the district. In 2012, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown lost the district to Republican Josh Mandel by 6 points, compared to a 10 point loss by President Barack Obama to Republican Mitt Romney, according to an analysis by the Daily Kos blog.

But if Democrats are counting on disaffection with Trump there, it would be a huge and quick turnaround from 2016 - the district backed Trump over Democrat Hilary Clinton by a 63 percent to 33 percent margin.

"I would say in a normal year, these districts would be impossible to win," said Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper, who said Harbaugh is indicative of the kind of candidate Democrats hope will emerge this year. "In a wave year, things happen."

Republicans confident

Republicans say they are not worried about keeping District  7. They say Gibbs has lived in the district for three decades, while Harbaugh is a recent arrival.

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

Martin also pointed to a Wednesday interview in which Clinton said she may campaign next year on behalf of Democratic congressional candidates.

Martin said the NRCC is "thrilled to extend a special invitation to her to join Ken Harbaugh and campaign in Ohio's 7th District."

"The NRCC looks forward to seeing as much of Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail as possible," Martin said.

In a statement, a Gibbs campaign spokesman said: "Bob Gibbs is focused on representing the people of Ohio's 7th District. Democrats can keep arguing about 2016 while Bob does what he was sent to Washington to do: repeal and replace Obamacare, cut spending, and get Washington out of the way of Ohio's families, farmers, and small business owners."

This story has been corrected to reflect that the Daily Kos is not affiliated with the Huffington Post, and the citations of the blog's analysis also have been corrected.


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Get Involved

VOLUNTEER or make a contribution