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Ney faces unexpected challenge in GOP primary

The Hill, February 16, 2006:
James Brodbelt Harris, a financial analyst from Zanesville, Ohio, stepped forward Thursday to challenge legally embattled Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) in the Republican primary.

"I think this is an unusual opportunity for someone like me to get into the race," said the 36-year-old political neophyte. "I believe any good Republican could hold this Republican gerrymandered district and the only way a Democrat could win this district is in the midst of a scandal."

Meanwhile, top Ohio Republicans worried about a scenario in which Ney could be indicted because of his connections to disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who admitted last month to bribing public officials. Ney is referred to as "Representative #1" in the Abramoff plea agreement.

Fearing that an unknown candidate could defeat an indicted incumbent and certainly lose to a well-funded Democratic in November, Ohio GOP Party Chairman Bob Bennett made a slew of phone calls to Ohio GOP lawmakers, the White House, and Ohio legislators to consider whether an established candidate, such as GOP State Sens. Jay Hottinger or John Carey, should enter the primary.

"There were numerous back up plans and back up plans to the back up plans," said an Ohio Republican. "Scrambling is an understatement."

Despite Ney's vulnerability, nobody else jumped into the race. The primary will be held on May 2.

Carey said he filed papers to run for reelection to the state senate and Hottinger, who has reached his two-term limit in the senate, told The Hill he would run for the Ohio state legislature.

"We've always maintained that the ball was in court of Congressman Ney," Hottinger said. "We are not going to file, we will not be filing. It's our hope that the congressman gets cleared."

And the GOP political establishment has lined up behind Ney.

"Bob Ney is our guy," said Ohio Republican Party spokesman John McClelland.

Ney told The Hill that he was confident he would win the primary and did not expect to be indicted, and seemed irritated by Bennett's phone calls.

"No matter what phone calls Bob Bennett made, no one considered running," Ney said. "Bob Bennett gets phone call dialing fever, but he did not call me."

Harris indicated he plans to make ethics an issue for Ney.

"If this bad news is in the papers for the next six to seven months, Republicans could lose 30 to 40 seats nationally."

Ney has said he will continue to seek reelection if he is indicted.

Four Democrats have lined up to seek Ney's seat.