WASHINGTON – According to political tradition, Ohio's two freshmen congressmen — Republican Mike Turner (search) and Democrat Tim Ryan (search) — should be targeted by the opposing parties and widely viewed as the most vulnerable candidates in the state.
But they aren't.
Both face political newcomers who have raised less cash and have even less name recognition.
Political observers credit the lawmakers' lack of strong challengers to new congressional district lines drawn after the 2000 census, locally significant issues that each has pursued during their two years in Washington and comfortable electoral wins in 2002.
"Freshmen members, in theory, are the easiest to pick off because they don't have that much of a record ... but the way the lines are drawn in Ohio, the seat is pretty much theirs until they mess up really bad, resign or retire, or the lines are redrawn," said Nancy Martorano, assistant political science professor at the University of Dayton.
Turner's 3rd District was redrawn in 2002 to include more Republican voters by moving part of Dayton and its northern suburbs into the 8th District, represented by Republican John Boehner.
"It also helps that Mike Turner was mayor of Dayton and still popular among the Dayton demographic," Martorano said.
Democrats disagree, pointing out Turner lost his last mayoral race and has voted with the Republican majority in the House, which they say could mean he is accountable for the economy's poor performance.
"We defeated him as mayor of Dayton because the citizens of the city weren't satisfied with his leadership," Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Dan Trevas said. "Folks here are tired of one party rule. They're looking for new ideas."
Still, political scientists say businesswoman Jane Mitakides will have a tough time unseating the better-funded Turner.
"Many people just haven't heard her name," said Judy Gerhard, a political science professor at Sinclair Community College in Dayton. "Unless you've established name recognition and worked your way up through other offices, jumping into a congressional race cold is really tough."
While Turner's district is more conservative, Ryan's 17th District, which combines part of the regions previously represented by longtime Democratic Reps. Jim Traficant and Tom Sawyer, is decidedly more liberal.
"It's just packed full of Democrats," said William Binning, chairman of the Political Science Department at Youngstown State University. "Tim Ryan is safe through the decade."
Even Republicans acknowledge that the strong Democratic lean of the 17th District probably takes it out of play for several years.
"We use our resources in races that we know we can win," said Jason Mauk, spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party. "We thought we had a pretty strong candidate in Ann Womer Benjamin in 2002, and she ran a hard-fought, aggressive race and still came up short."
Herb Asher, an Ohio State University political science professor who has studied state politics for 30 years, said Turner's 59 percent win over Democrat Rick Carne and Ryan's 51-34 percent win over Womer Benjamin in 2002 have helped the lawmakers avoid much of a challenge this year.
Ryan's opponent is Frank Cusimano, an electrical contractor from Warren, Ohio, who is a first-time candidate without much money.
"If one party has given it their best shot and they've lost, especially if they've lost by a reasonable margin, and they believe that the guy has done a good job, it's going to be that much more difficult to recruit a candidate to run two years later," Asher said.
Many constituents do believe Turner and Ryan are doing a good job, Asher and others said. They've stayed in touch with their districts over the past two years and have been out front on high-profile issues.
Ryan has repeatedly spoken out against the Bush administration's economic and trade policies, including in a national radio address he was asked to make earlier this year. He has won the support of organized labor and generally isn't held accountable for the failing economy in blue-collar northeast Ohio, Binning said.
Turner has hosted a field hearing of the U.S. Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and was named chairman of a House group charged with looking for ways to revitalize the nation's urban areas.
"It does portray an image back here in his district that he really is working to get things done," Martorano said.