LIMA — Prior to 2020, Rep. Jim Jordan has held many reputations — family man, budget-hawk, even legislative terrorist. But his latest nickname came with the rise of President Donald Trump’s influence.
Today, Jordan is Trump’s “wrestler.” While Jordan’s wrestling past received mentions since he became a politician, today, his campaign website puts his tough man persona front and center: “Jim Jordan is fighting for us.”
With another election year underway in Ohio’s 4th Congressional District, his Democratic challengers are waiting for the wings. And they’re all looking to tone down the aggression.
Teamster. Comedy writer. Political strategist. Mike Larsen has worn a few hats in his time, and today, he’s taking aim at Jordan with a progressive message.
Larsen dropped into the scene back in 2018 when he played a part in the campaign of former Jordan political opponent Janet Garrett. At the time, his Hollywood connections — Larsen has written for the “Drew Carey Show,” “Ellen” and “Reba” — helped the campaign bring a unique flair to the race, and a number of Garrett’s 2018 campaign ads, including one with a puppet version of Jordan, had a polished look despite Garrett’s relatively small campaign budget.
Now, Larsen is picking up the race that Garrett dropped, and he has some hefty political experience behind him: interning for Harvey Milk, aiding Rep. Jackie Speier as a senior staffer and running training programs at the request of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
With that said, he thinks there’s a way to beat Jordan, who holds significant advantages as a long-time incumbent.
“(Jordan) has never been more polarizing,” Larsen said. “I would have not gotten into this race if there wasn’t a path for a Democrat to win this time, and that path has been created because of how polarizing he is.”
All three Democratic challengers point to Jordan’s national profile and legislative record as evidence that Jordan isn’t doing what a representative should be doing.
“He’s more worried about getting on Fox News at night than doing things for the Ohio 4th,” candidate Jeff Sites said. “He’s more of: ‘What’s in it for me?’ than ‘What can I do for you?”
And that opens up possibilities, especially when so many are lining up to take on Jordan. With the independent candidate Chris Gibbs pulling votes from Jordan’s base, Larsen is looking to invigorate the region’s Democrats into coming out and flipping the seat with a plurality.
Unsurprisingly, Larsen’s platform to win includes progressive ideas, and he contends that there’s an ear for them in the district, especially among older Democrats who have watched their own representative demonize their politics over the years.
“They come up and say, ‘It’s so refreshing to hear somebody say out loud what we hear at our dinner tables,” Larsen said.
Some of Larsen’s platform mainstays include moving toward universal health care for all, universal background checks when purchasing guns, addressing the climate crisis issue more aggressively, supporting unions and protecting abortion rights.
Larsen also is pushing to expand federal programs that fund the extension of broadband access into rural areas.
“There are federal programs through the Department of Agriculture that will run a broadband line out to these small towns. Some of these are an intersection and a dozen houses. There’s obviously no point in Verizon running a line to these houses, but the federal program will,” Larsen said. “All we had to do was ask, but (Jordan) doesn’t ask because the federal government is not his brand. He does not want the federal government to be seen as a benevolent force in Ohio.
“You can love the guy for his politics, but you can still see that he’s not doing the most basic job of a representative, which is to represent us and to fight to get our tax money back home.”
If Larsen is trying to appeal to those progressives on the left, Freshour sits closer to the middle, and she’s is leaning on so-called dinner table issues — health care, family programs and education — to earn the party nod to take on Jordan.
“I ended up being one of the first Head Start kids in Ohio because the state came to (my mother) and said: ‘You know, we have this pilot program we’d like to put your daughter in.’ And those programs are so important to families,” Freshour said. “The fact that Jordan doesn’t support them and actively works against them is the primary reason that I want to replace him.”
Freshour pointed specifically to the Trump administration’s recently released budget estimation that cuts $478 billion from Medicare and $1 trillion from Medicaid over a decade, phases out federal grants for the popular Meals on Wheels program, removes the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and shrinks the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Jordan spoke in support of the document.
“President Trump’s budget sets the right priorities: funds the wall, supports our military, cuts wasteful foreign aid, enacts work requirements for welfare recipients. Most importantly, it sets on a path to a balanced budget,” Jordan tweeted on Feb. 10.
Since taking office, Trump has widened the federal deficit by 68% and increased the federal debt by roughly $3 trillion during an economic expansion when experts say the federal government should be spending less.
Freshour also highlighted Jordan’s actions in trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the accompanying legal language that protects those with pre-existing conditions. Freshour’s view on health care is that the ACA needs to be expanded and the federal government should have a public option, but she refrained from supporting the Bernie Sanders “Medicare for all” plan.
As for Freshour’s experience, she holds a master’s degree in American government and has worked as an intern on Capitol Hill where she learned some of the legal points behind crafting policy.
“So that gave me a real understanding of the importance of language in the law and things like that. So I think that those are the things that I sort of bring to the table and they sort of define who I am,” Freshour said.
“The gerrymandering isn’t going to save (Jordan) when people are losing their homes that they’ve had for 40 years, and they’ve been retired and they count on a specific amount of income that you’re going to shred. Those are the real issues for people that cut across party lines.”
Of the three candidates, the one closest to Lima is Jeffrey Sites. A Bath High School grad and military veteran, Sites is from Lima and works in Findlay as an assistant manager of shipping and receiving. He got into the race against Jordan after watching the congressman on the national stage and failing to see him back in his district.
“The job of a representative is to go back to your constituents,” Sites said. “I delved deeper and found out that he’s introduced zero bills by himself since he’s been in Congress. That begs the question: ‘What has he been doing?’”
Jordan hasn’t introduced a bill since 2017, but he has co-sponsored 75 bills since renewing his term in 2019. In comparison to other congressmen, Jordan ranks low when comparing such legislative activity, as he prefers to use his influence and knowledge of the legislative process to push particular initiatives instead.
In comparison, Sites stressed the need for a representative to listen to his or her constituents, and he contests that Jordan has failed to do so by getting wrapped up in political gamesmanship.
“He’s too close to the executive branch in defending the president, and I think that takes away what he should be doing in Congress, which is oversight of the executive branch — not being the cheerleader for the executive branch,” Sites said.
As for particular issues, Sites said he sits closer to center as a moderate Democrat — more of a Sherrod Brown than a Nancy Pelosi — and he’s looking to occupy that middle ground to gain voters.
For example, Sites said he would like to see some sort of gun legislation to better control gun violence but without the alarmist rhetoric. Finding a solution to such a policy dilemma, Sites said, requires civility and conversation.
“We can agree to disagree, and that’s kind of the strategy that I’m employing,” Sites said “We’ve gotten used to yelling at each other.”
Sites’ platform includes improving on the ACA, investing in the middle class, maintaining entitlement programs like Social Security, addressing the opioid epidemic, combating climate change and bringing middle class voices to the House.
“I’ve been using a quote that kind of sums it up from John F. Kennedy: ‘We should not look for a Democratic way or a Republican way, but American way.’ That kind of sums up what my moderate stance is. Let’s look for an American way.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.