- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Democratic Party headquarters stands next to a funeral home in downtown Columbus, but these days, national Democrats hope it will be the birthplace of their return to control of Congress.

“We’ve learned how to talk to the voters,” says party spokesman Randy Borntrager. “It creates an atmosphere for change.”

Republicans currently hold 12 of Ohio’s 18 congressional seats. However, five of those seats are considered vulnerable to Democratic takeover in today’s elections. If Democrats can capture those five seats, it would go a long way toward giving them the 15 seats they need to take control of the House.

The Ohio seats in play include the 15th District, home to Rep. Deborah Pryce, the chamber’s No. 4 Republican as chairman of the House Republican Conference. Most polls showed Mrs. Pryce in a statistical tie with her Democrat challenger Mary Jo Kilroy, a Franklin County commissioner.

“I would describe our mood here as quietly optimistic,” said Pryce spokesman George Rasley. “We have a great get-out-the-vote campaign. We’ve probably knocked on every door in the district. I’m sure they’re sick of it.”

Mr. Rasley says the Pryce campaign has conducted an internal poll showing the race in a dead heat, but with “all the trends” moving in Mrs. Pryce’s favor.

However, the trends may not be moving so well for the state’s other embattled Republicans. In the 18th District, Republican Joy Padgett is running to replace former Rep. Bob Ney, who resigned Friday after pleading guilty to influence-peddling charges in connection with disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Most polls show Democrat Zack Space leading Mrs. Padgett, who was personally picked by Mr. Ney to replace him. In 2004, Mr. Ney won re-election against Brian Thomas 66 percent to 34 percent. “The 18th District has been embarrassed by the Republicans,” Mr. Borntrager said.

Ohio’s 1st and 2nd Districts are two of the state’s most conservative, but Republicans are fighting for survival there as well. In the 2nd District, Rep. Jean Schmidt has suffered a number of gaffes since coming to office last year when she narrowly defeated her Democratic opponent in a race to replace popular former Rep. Rob Portman.

“We haven’t won a statewide race in 16 years,” Mr. Borntrager said. “Our people are excited that we can change that.”

Mr. Borntrager says state Democrats have 20,000 volunteers signed up for get-out-the-vote efforts today.

Democrats also won what they consider a critical victory yesterday, when the Ohio State Elections Board ruled in their favor in a dispute over voting-station observers. Some Democrats have charged that their supporters were denied access to ballots during the 2004 elections. The ruling allows Democrats to increase their number of observers at the polls.

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