- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

One question facing voters in Ohio's 17th congressional district in November is whether they want a representative who will actually be able to go to Washington to represent them.
Democrat Timothy J. Ryan and Republican Ann Womer Benjamin are competing for the seat under the shadow of former U.S. Democratic Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., who was convicted by a court on bribery charges. He was expelled by House colleagues in July. But Traficant is also running again, from a prison cell in Pennsylvania, and his campaign manager says the former congressman will serve if elected.
"The bottom line is Jim Traficant served for 18 years, everyone knows where he stands on all the issues, there's nothing new under the sun. What we have to do is show our support for him, let people know he is on the ballot, and let the chips fall where they may," said Jim Bunosky, a self-described political novice who signed on as Traficant's campaign manager in August.
Republicans, however, say the most Traficant can do is play the spoiler to Democrats, while Democrats say the flamboyant former congressman won't even do that.
"The winner of this election is going to take 42.5 percent" of the vote, said David All, campaign manager for Mrs. Womer Benjamin. He said they expect Traficant to collect about 20 percent of the vote in the district, and that means the overall winner will need to top 40 percent something within reach for a Republican candidate in the heavily Democratic district.
But the latest poll released shows Mr. Ryan has a substantial lead with 52 percent support, and campaign spokesman Pat Lowry said Traficant isn't gaining traction.
"When we're out in the community, we're not hearing about Jim Traficant," Mr. Lowry said. "The former congressman's numbers are diminishing, and I don't think he's going to play any role in the outcome of this race. When it comes time for people to vote they're going to want someone who can stand on the House floor and represent them."
Mr. Ryan has focused on bread-and-butter Democratic issues such as Social Security and prescription drug coverage, while Mrs. Womer Benjamin has highlighted her years of experience in the state legislature.
Traficant, who was convicted on 10 federal felony counts including bribery and taking kickbacks from his office staff, is serving an eight-year sentence in a federal prison in Pennsylvania. Last month a judge rejected his request to be released from prison so he could campaign and work on appeals to his conviction.
Still, Mr. Bunosky says the Ohio secretary of state ruled Traficant's name could remain on the ballot. Mr. Bunosky said they have opened two campaign offices and are beginning to see campaign contributions come in from all over the country though he said the money isn't as much as when Traficant was an incumbent.
Ohio lost a House seat in the decennial reapportionment process. Rather than give up another incumbent's seat, the Ohio legislature sliced up Traficant's district, moving the boundaries north and west.
Rep. Tom Sawyer ran for re-election in the new 17th District, but the eight-term incumbent lost the Democratic primary to Mr. Ryan, a state senator. Mrs. Womer Benjamin is a member of the state House.
The most recent poll taken on Sept. 16-18 found Mr. Ryan with 52 percent support and Mrs. Womer Benjamin with 31 percent. Another 10 percent supported Traficant. The poll of 500 likely voters was paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.


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