As Republican John Boehner gets closer to the prize of U.S. House speaker, not everyone back home is convinced about the value of a new pinnacle for the local guy who's been winning elections for three decades.
Boehner's long-standing support in his western Ohio district allows the House minority leader to spend time away, campaigning for GOP candidates, as his party tries to reclaim the House next week with him in line to become speaker. But critics warn the speakership would increase neglect of his district in favor of Washington politics.
Boehner also personally opposes earmarks and pledges to cut federal spending, but admirers see his increasing national profile as a boost for the region's image and added clout to look out for its interests.
"When you have the third-most powerful person in the country, it counts for something," said Ed Shelton, a longtime local officeholder in Hamilton, north of Cincinnati.
Catherine Stoker, a township trustee in suburban West Chester, countered that. "You can't eat prestige. Prestige does not bring road improvements and does not repair the Brent Spence Bridge," she said, referring to a deteriorating Ohio River span connecting Cincinnati to Kentucky.
Since winning his congressional election in 1990, Boehner, a former state legislator, has been re-elected with 64 to 74 percent of the vote in the 8th House District of pleasant suburbs, struggling industrial cities and rural stretches north of Cincinnati.
However, billboards have popped up needling him about time spent golfing, a daily newspaper in his home county says he should debate in his district, and his Democratic opponent in Tuesday's election says he is putting political ambitions first.
Shelton, a Republican, said Boehner was instrumental in gaining permits and licensing for Hamilton's new hydroelectric plant project, and local business people say he has helped navigate interstate highway interchange construction and other key projects through federal agencies.
"Everything we asked for, John was there for us," said Shelton, a former Butler County commissioner and Hamilton city councilman.
Boehner supporters say he reflects the conservative views of his constituents in opposing the policies of President Barack Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The Democratic House nominee, Justin Coussoule, argues that Boehner isn't helping with opposition to the healthcare overhaul and federal stimulus spending that Coussoule says can benefit many people in a district with unemployment that has been near double digits.
"John Boehner is out running for speaker and is looking past all of us," Coussoule said.
Boehner has campaigned for dozens of other GOP candidates nationwide. The Hamilton JournalNews recently called on him editorially to come home and debate Coussoule, saying voters deserve "the opportunity to hear him (Boehner)."
Coussoule, 35, a West Point graduate and former Procter & Gamble Co. employee, is generally considered the most substantial Democratic candidate against Boehner since the Republican won his seat with 61 percent of the vote. Coussoule is running television ads, makes campaign appearances throughout the district and is sweeping it with direct mail.
Don Popps, a honey farmer and General Motors retiree near Oxford, said he has long thought Boehner did little for his district. He has been impressed with Coussoule, in part because the Democrat has yard signs, something a prior nominee never even had, Popps said.
"Justin is the first candidate I've seen in a long time who's serious," he said.
The Blue America political action committee put up some "Beat Boehner" billboard messages along Interstate 75 near Boehner's suburban home. However, Boehner can raise many more times what Coussoule can — he took in $2.8 million last quarter to the Democrat's $103,691.
Boehner, 60, has rebutted Democratic efforts to portray him as an out-of-touch elitist with anecdotes about his hardscrabble, "regular guy" past, working at his father's bar and putting himself through college with odd jobs and night shifts. He started in politics as a homeowners association leader, then as township trustee in the West Chester area, which has nearly tripled in population to about 65,000 since 1980.
Tracy Brewer, a suburban mother of two in nearby Fairfield Township, said she shares Boehner's fiscal conservatism but questions whether having him as speaker would make a big difference.
"I would be concerned because we would still have the president that we have," she said. "And you (Republicans) had control before, so what is going to happen, really, to get this economy back on track?"
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