Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:
Ohio 16th – Rep. John Boccieri is seeking a 2nd term
Primary: May 4, 2010
Location: Canton/Northeastern Ohio
Days until Election Day: 56
There's no shortage this year of House Democrats in traditionally Republican districts who were first elected in the Obama wave of 2008. Now, many of those members, including Rep. John Boccieri from Ohio's Canton-based 16th district, are in serious jeopardy of losing their seats after just one term.
Boccieri, a four-term state legislator, Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, and former minor league baseball player, was one of the party's top House recruits on the campaign trail last cycle. He cruised to a surprisingly comfortable 55 percent to 45 percent victory over Republican and fellow state Sen. Kirk Schuring in the race to replace the retiring 18-term GOP Rep. Ralph Regula.
In Congress, Boccieri has developed a voting record that may give ammunition to Republicans who claim that he is out of step with his GOP-leaning district. Though he voted against the original House Democratic version of health care reform, he voted for the revised bill that President Obama signed into law in March. He also supported other major Democratic initiatives, including the economic stimulus package, Wall Street reform, and the "cap and trade" energy proposal. According to a Congressional Quarterly analysis, he has voted with Obama on 90 percent of key votes last year.
His Republican challenger is Jim Renacci, a businessman and the former mayor of Wadsworth, a town of about 20,000 located in the district. Renacci has criticized Boccieri for his voting record and has stressed his own experience in both the private and public sectors. He has the backing of national conservative organizations like the Family Research Council and the Concerned Women for America, as well as from possible 2012 presidential contenders Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich. He also won an endorsement from rocker Jon Bon Jovi; the two are both investors in a sports league.
As of mid-year, Boccieri lead Renacci in overall fundraising, $1.3 million in contributions to $1.1 million, but the Republican loaned his campaign $305,000 from personal funds and hasn't ruled out kicking in more. Nonetheless, the Democratic incumbent had a bigger cash warchest, with $1.1 million in the bank compared to $663,000 for the challenger.
The race has caught the attention of the national labor union AFSCME, which has committed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in negative TV ads against Renacci. One ad alleges that the Republican "cheated on his taxes" and "hid" million of dollars in income. Renacci denies the charge. He says he mounted a court challenge against a change in a specific Ohio tax law but willingly paid over $1 million in back taxes and fees upon losing the case. He recently filed a defamation suit against AFSCME over the ad.
Ohio's 16th district is located in the state's northeastern region and includes all of Canton, which has been hard hit by the economic turmoil of the past two years. The area has an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent, higher than both the statewide and national averages. McCain narrowly won the district in 2008, 50 to 48 percent, less than the 54 percent George W. Bush won here in both 2000 and 2004.
Boccieri, whose wife is expected to give birth to their fifth child on Election Day, will have his hands full in November. His seat is near the top of GOP target lists, and Renacci has the resources to wage a very serious challenge. The freshman will also have to explain a number of difficult votes to constituents who are used to sending a Republican to Congress. The race will be extremely bruising and competitive and will likely become one of the higher profile House contests in the nation.
– CNN Capitol Hill producer Evan Glass contributed to this report.