LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
In 2004, Ohio was the state that kept George Bush in the White House. But because of a slew of scandals and a slumping economy, Republicans face an enormous challenge there this election season. In a moment, we'll speak to Chuck Blasdel, a candidate in one district where Republicans appear to have given up. But first, Deborah Pryce, she's not only an incumbent in Ohio's 15th District, she's one of the highest-ranking Republicans in the House of Representatives. The Republican Party is pouring money into the district to try to protect her. Defeating her would be a huge win for the Democrats, and they have some chance. She joins me now from her district. Congresswoman Pryce, welcome.
Representative DEBORAH PRYCE (Republican, Ohio): Hi, Linda. Thanks for having me.
WERTHEIMER: Now, in recent polling, which I understand was done a week ago, you were 12 points behind your Democratic challenger, Mary Jo Kilroy. Are you surprised by numbers like that?
Representative PRYCE: I'm not surprised. That gap has been closed. That was the week that the Mark Foley issue surfaced and we're back in the ballgame. That was more of a blip than a reality.
WERTHEIMER: So, what do you have to do to be sure that some blip like that doesn't happen to you again?
Representative PRYCE: We have to make sure that people realize that this election is not a referendum. This election is a choice between two candidates. And there's a big, big difference between the two candidates. It's my job to help people understand that. My opponent thinks she can make this a referendum on the president.
WERTHEIMER: So, you're trying to keep it local. She's trying to take it national. How much support will you have from committees in Washington, like the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee?
Representative PRYCE: Well, so far, we've had great cooperation from them. I don't see that letting up. We have to realize that for nearly a year, 527 group sets the…
WERTHEIMER: The independent expenditure groups.
Representative PRYCE: That's right. They've been beating me up since that - right after the last election. My opponent didn't spend her first nickel until about two months ago. All the while, I've been beaten to a pulp by, you know, these George Soros, Hollywood-funded, outside interests groups. And so, I think, that it's our turn to put money into this race. The people in Central Ohio don't want outsiders coming in, buying this district. And, I think, some of that backfires after awhile.
WERTHEIMER: Have the national committees been producing ads and broadcasting them in your area?
Representative PRYCE: Yes. They have - they've been doing mail, mostly, in my district. And there's some TV, I believe. I know that there is a radio spot. And so, they're watching very closely. There's a lot at stake. And we want to keep Ohio in the Republican column.
WERTHEIMER: What about Ohio the bellwether state? Is it going to be true these you?
Representative PRYCE: I think everybody will - be watching Ohio very closely. It's going to be the epicenter once again. We're getting a little tired of that, actually. We wish that we could concentrate on another state for one election cycle. But it looks to me like Ohio will be right in the forefront of everybody's TV-watching the night of the election.
WERTHEIMER: Congresswoman Pryce, thank you very much.
Representative PRYCE: Thank you, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: Congresswoman Deborah Pryce is a Republican from Ohio's 15th District. She's also chairwoman of the Republican Conference in the House.
Chuck Blasdel is the Republican in a race to replace the Democratic congressman who's running for governor. A few months ago, Republicans saw this open seat as one of their best chances to pick up a new seat in the House. Now, things are very different. With less than three weeks left until the election, the money and support from the national party has dried up. It's being diverted to protect incumbents that were once considered safe.
We caught up with the candidate, Chuck Blasdel, on the campaign trail in Gallipolis, Ohio. Mr. Balsdel, welcome to the program.
Mr. CHUCK BLASDEL (Republican Congressional Candidate, Ohio): it's good to be here.
WERTHEIMER: First of all, could you describe this Ohio River district to us?
Mr. BLASDEL: Well, it's a very long district along the Ohio River, on the eastern side of the state. And it basically goes from the bottom tip of the Ohio River up to the top of the Ohio River, and then the beyond that, close to the city of Youngstown. It's mostly a rural district. A lot of nice little river towns. You know, it's been an enjoyable past 14 months traveling up and down the river.
WERTHEIMER: As recently as May, the Republican Party planned to spend quite a bit of money helping you to campaign. Have you seen any of that money?
Mr. BLASDEL: Well, I mean they've been helpful in helping us raise money. And we've been very successful raising money in the district. And, you know, we're just waiting and seeing what happens at the national level, in terms of the climate. But, quite frankly, we don't worry about things we can't control.
WERTHEIMER: Let me ask you about one of those things you can't control - where the national party puts it's money. Where is it putting its money, if it's not putting it in your race?
Mr. BLASDEL: Well, that's - they aren't exactly calling me up and letting me know that at this point in time. So, I don't know that I could tell you where they're putting their money.
WERTHEIMER: Do you need them, to have a good chance?
Mr. BLASDEL: It would be nice to have them, but I really think that we still have a very good shot to win this race - whether the nationals come in, or whether they don't. Obviously, if they were to come in and spend some resources here, that would obviously increase our chances. But, you know, again, I mean, we're not focused on that.
WERTHEIMER: A poll from August - which of course, is a lifetime ago in politics - showed you about 15 points behind your opponent, State Senator Charlie Wilson. Where do you think you are now?
Mr. BLASDEL: You know, I'm really not focused on polls at this point. You know, we're having some internal polling here. You know, I'm very comfortable with where we're at. You know, I feel that we're in a lot better shape than 15 points.
WERTHEIMER: To some extent, you do seem to have the deck stacked against you, though. This is a district which was held by a Democrat for several terms. Before it was a district that flipped back and forth between the parties, that's one of the reasons why the Republicans thought it might flip back this time. What do you think is going on in Ohio that is making your - your work harder than you originally thought it was going to be.
Mr. BLASDEL: Well, you know, I mean, there are some issues with the climate. I think, you know, we as Republicans face some challenges with some local politics here, and as well as the State House. Over the last, almost, six years now - you know, I've had the deck stacked against me before. My current House district that I serve, I'm the first Republican to serve in that district in almost 30 years. So I've been in this position before, and been very successful.
WERTHEIMER: Mr. Blasdel, the governor got in trouble and had to go into court, and a cup of plea, basically. You've had a congressman who - Congressman Ney, who is under great pressure to resign since he's been indicted. Is that causing you problems?
Mr. BLASDEL: Those are things that are certainly out there. But, you know, I think when you look at it, and I think, you know, the Democrats would certainly like to make this election about Bob Taft and Bob Ney. But the reality is, is that neither one of those gentlemen is on the ballot in the sixth district. And so, you know, we're not focused on that, we're focused on getting our message out and that's really what's important.
WERTHEIMER: Mr. Blasdel, thank you very much.
Mr. BLASDEL: It's good to be with you.
WERTHEIMER: State Representative Chuck Blasdel is the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio's 6th district. He's one of many Republican candidates across the country seeing dwindling financial support from the national party.
one other note. Ohio Republican Bob Ney is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to accepting tens of thousands of dollars in illegal gifts from lobbyists.
This is NPR News.