CINCINNATI (CN) – Despite an energizing, up-and-coming candidate, Ohio Democrats were unable to oust incumbent Steve Chabot from his seat in the 1st Congressional District.
The defeat of Aftab Pureval means the Republican Chabot will continue his two-decade long tenure in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Pureval hoped to capitalize on growing resentment with President Donald Trump’s Republican Party, but his promise of new leadership for southwestern Ohio in Washington wasn’t enough to overcome several missteps and the political guile of the veteran Chabot.
Pureval’s campaign was derailed by scandal in the months leading up to Election Day, including an investigation by the Ohio Elections Commission and the resignation of his campaign manager a week before Tuesday’s midterms.
The race between Chabot and Pureval was divisive and, at times, nasty, as both sides unleashed volley after volley of attack ads against his opponent.
Debates between the two often devolved into bickering matches, and by the time Nov. 6 rolled around, fatigue had set in among District 1 voters.
Pureval, the current Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, wasn’t helped by a string of controversies near the tail-end of his campaign.
The Ohio Elections Commission held a hearing on Nov. 1 regarding allegations that Pureval had illegally used money from his Clerk of Courts re-election campaign to fund polling and photography for his congressional campaign.
The commission found Pureval had committed a minor violation and fined him $100, and although the Democratic candidate said he had been “vindicated,” the investigation had already swayed enough voters, it seems.
District 1 voter Shannon Powell, outside of the Hamilton County Library in Downtown Cincinnati, told a reporter she didn’t think the violations were serious enough to affect the race.
“I know Aftab had some campaign finance issues,” she said, “that I think got blown really out of proportion. … In my opinion, he was really up front and honest about it.”
Pureval also wasn’t helped by the resignation of his campaign manager, Sarah Topy, a week out from the elections, which stemmed from allegations she had ordered a man to illegally infiltrate his opponent’s campaign events.
But to say that Chabot’s re-election is down to the missteps of his inexperienced opponent would be an over-simplification.
Chabot has held the congressional seat for 21 of the past 23 years, establishing a stronghold in southwestern Ohio.
A 2012 re-districting plan by the Republican-led legislature fortified Chabot’s position and annexed rural – and conservative – Warren County into District 1.
With 100 percent of its precincts reporting, Warren County voted over 2-1 for Chabot, with over 65 percent of its votes going to the incumbent.
Courthouse News spoke to several voters outside a Warren County polling location, several of whom voted for Pureval.
“Chabot was just attack ads, attack ads, attack ads,” said Andrew Griever, 22, of Lebanon, who said he voted for Pureval.
“Pureval [had] a lot more positive ads of himself,” Griever continued. “He did have attack ads because that’s what you do, but they weren’t nearly as dirty.”
Griever said he has always been a Republican, but that he is “tired of the childish lies” of the party, and voted Democrat in this year’s election.
A voter who chose not to give his personal information said he voted “primarily for the Republicans” because he believes that “Trump has America moving in the right direction.”
“Politically,” the man said, “I’m a little to the right of Attila the Hun.”
According to the Hamilton County Board of Elections, voter turnout was at over 54 percent, up nearly ten percent from midterm elections in 2014.
The Campaign Legal Center filed a federal class action Tuesday against Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, claiming eligible voters arrested just before Election Day are unconstitutionally being denied their right to vote.
“Ohio systematically disenfranchises eligible voters who are arrested after absentee ballot request deadline and detained through Election Day, by refusing to provide these eligible voters with access to the ballot,” in violation of their First and 14th Amendment rights, according to the complaint filed in Columbus federal court.
Mark Gaber, senior legal counsel at Campaign Legal Center, said in a statement, “No qualified voter should be categorically denied the right to vote. Ohio’s practice of refusing to provide ballots to late-jailed voters is particularly egregious because it most severely affects those who cannot afford bail.”
The lawsuit seeks an order requiring Secretary Husted to issue a directive to county election boards notifying them that the eligible voters arrested just before the election have the right to vote and may ask for absentee ballots.
Husted’s office did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
Kyle Anne Uniss contributed to this report.