BATAVIA, Ohio – Jean Schmidt (search) campaigned nearly nonstop in the 24 hours before the polls opened, hitting all-night restaurants in search of voters.
The 53-year-old Republican wore out staffers half her age, and she was still going strong as the sun came up, casting her own vote, attending Mass and then continuing to campaign until around 11 p.m., when it became clear she had won the special election for Congress.
On Sept. 6, she'll be sworn in to replace Rob Portman (search), a 12-year Republican representative who left to become U.S. trade representative.
"If you want to do something, nothing holds you back if you have that desire," said Schmidt, who describes herself as a "5-foot-2 female who is very focused."
Schmidt has plenty of experience with perseverance — she's already run 54 marathons.
That often-intense focus helped her come back from a 22-vote recount loss last year in a primary bid for the state Senate. She emerged from an 11-candidate primary in June to win a nationally watched congressional seat battle against an Iraq war veteran.
On Tuesday, she beat out Democrat Paul Hackett (search) for Ohio's 2nd District seat in a 52-48 percent victory.
While Schmidt said she's normally "cool, calm and collected," she pumped her fists when vote-counting was finished last week. Her twin sister, Jennifer Black, said there was no doubt that Schmidt was gratified by the result.
"Knowing how she won the 2004 race and lost in a re-count by 22 votes; one never forgets the pain," Black said.
Schmidt served as a state representative from 2001 until 2004, when she narrowly lost the GOP primary bid for state Senate. The unofficial results gave her a 62-vote win; the subsequent recount put state Rep. Tom Niehaus 22 votes ahead.
Schmidt, active in Clermont County politics for more than three decades, found her political career suddenly on hold. She was spending more time with the family's small real-estate investment business and speaking out against abortion when Portman's resignation opened the door for a comeback.
While national media attention on the House race focused on Hackett's bid to become the first combat veteran of the Iraq war elected to Congress, Schmidt pointed out that she would be the first female elected from the district.
She also will become the first Clermont County native in Congress in eight decades, a thrill for her neighbors.
"They couldn't be more proud," says Schmidt, whose family has a 175-acre farm. "To them I'm the little girl from the farm in the country going to Washington."
President of Greater Cincinnati Right to Life, Schmidt has portrayed herself as a candidate of family and moral values. But she says economic issues, energy, and national security seemed to be on most voters' minds.
She also will take a special issue to Washington — the fate of Army Reserve Spc. Keith "Matt" Maupin (search), the only soldier the U.S. Army lists as captured in Iraq.
Maupin, also from Clermont County, was captured during an attack on his convoy April 9, 2004. He was 20 then and hasn't been seen since he was shown in an Al-Jazeera TV video a week after his capture. The Pentagon studied a subsequent grainy video that purported to show Maupin being shot, but ruled it inconclusive.
His parents and many others in Clermont, including Schmidt, refuse to believe he is dead.
"As a country, we have done a bad job with the missing in action. We have to keep looking for these people," Schmidt says. "I am committed to bringing Matt Maupin home. I want to personally shake his hand."
On election day, she wore a button with Maupin's photo. The soldier's parents, Keith and Carolyn, came to her election-night celebration.
"I know that she's only one person, but she can get loud when she needs to," said Keith Maupin. "She will not give up on Matt."