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When voters in 10 states fill out ballots tomorrow, they won't only be choosing their preferred Republican presidential candidates, many will have to make a choice between candidates vying for congressional seats. Some long time members of the House are facing tough primary races. NPR's David Welna traveled to Ohio for this story on one of those races.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: A couple of dozen people are settling in for a recent get-to-know-the-candidates night at the back of the fire station in the Cincinnati suburb of Loveland, Ohio.
BRENT ZUCH: I'm going to get started soon so if everybody could please grab some food and drink and a seat.
WELNA: Mortgage banker Brent Zuch is the head of the Loveland Republican Club. He welcomes the four people who'll be competing tomorrow to be the Republican on the ticket next fall in the race for Ohio's 2nd Congressional District.
ZUCH: It's hard, and it's very hard. And even once you win, it's still hard. There's people gunning for you all the time.
WELNA: Especially if you happen to be Jean Schmidt. For the last seven years, this marathon-running Republican has represented the 2nd District. Schmidt is facing more GOP challengers for that job than any other House member tomorrow. Zuch asks her if she'd care to address the crowd.
REPRESENTATIVE JEAN SCHMIDT: No, that's OK. I can't. I've got another meeting. Nice to see you, don't have time.
WELNA: A man in the room murmurs that Schmidt picked up her things to leave the moment she saw a reporter walk in the room. I asked her if she truly is going to leave without talking to me or her constituents. Are you sure?
SCHMIDT: I am, honest to God, I am. I just came down to drop yard signs off, that's all.
WELNA: And with that, the congresswoman is gone. Podiatrist Brad Wenstrup, whom local Republican leaders recruited to make a failed bid for mayor of Cincinnati in the last election, is challenging Schmidt for her seat this time. He tells the crowd he decided to get into politics after serving as chief of surgery at an Army hospital in Iraq.
BRAD WENSTRUP: When I came home, I met John McCain, and John McCain asked if I had any post-traumatic stress. And I said, not till I got home and watched C-SPAN. I said then I was stressed out. And I did. I started seeing that people that were leading us in Washington, or so-called leading us in Washington, had very few real-world experiences.
WELNA: Wenstrup does not directly criticize Schmidt in his pitch to the crowd. That's a job he leaves to this radio ad being aired in the district.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Everyone says Jean Schmidt's conservative. But I have reviewed some of her votes and she doesn't seem conservative.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Oh, like the time she voted for the largest sales tax increase in Ohio history?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, that.
WELNA: Another challenger, Delta Airlines pilot Fred Kundrata, accuses the congresswoman of ignoring the district.
FRED KUNDRATA: Jean Schmidt has not had hardly any town hall meetings. I would have town hall meetings frequently, every week.
WELNA: And then, there's this from a third challenger, retired Marine Tony Brush.
TONY BRUSH: My first cry from the House floor will be, you will not get my vote to raise the debt ceiling.
WELNA: But it's not just three fellow Republicans taking on Jean Schmidt. She's also the target of a radio ad being run by an outside group called Campaign for Primary Accountability.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: America is drowning in debt, and our status quo politicians are to blame. Your congresswoman, Jean Schmidt, is one of the worst offenders.
WELNA: Curtis Ellis is a spokesman for the Texas-based Campaign For Primary Accountability, which is currently targeting 10 longtime House Democrats and Republicans.
CURTIS ELLIS: Jean Schmidt is an example of an entrenched incumbent who doesn't have very high favorable ratings among the people of her district. And she's in a district where the general election in November is a cakewalk. It's a one-party-dominated district.
WELNA: If Schmidt does come out on top tomorrow, as party leaders expect, she would still face a Democratic challenger in November and that would most likely be Cincinnati novelty card manufacturer David Krikorian.
DAVID KRIKORIAN: She's never really wanted to face me in a heads-up match, and this time we'll get that chance, to go head to head. And I think in a head-to-head match-up, she loses and I win.
WELNA: Democrats are hoping to take back 25 Republican-held seats in all next fall to regain control of the House. But University of Akron congressional expert David Cohen doubts that Schmidt has much to worry about.
DAVID COHEN: Pundits and commentators are always ready to write her off, but she always seems to pull it out at the end. And so this is just another one of the frequent challenges that she's had to deal with.
WELNA: Still, with fewer Republicans in her newly redrawn district, Schmidt faces a tougher re-election bid not only tomorrow, but in November as well. David Welna, NPR News.
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