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In Ohio's 16th District, A Football Star Charges At Democratic 'Blue Wave'

Anthony Gonzalez and Susan Moran Palmer
WOSU
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Anthony Gonzalez and Susan Moran Palmer

No matter how the vote goes next Tuesday, there will be a new face in Washington from Ohio’s 16th Congressional District. Incumbent Jim Renacci decided to run for U.S. Senate instead of seeking re-election, and both major party nominees to replace him are political newcomers: Democrat Susan Moran Palmer and Republican Anthony Gonzalez.

Palmer says she’s running because she believes she’s the best qualified candidate from either party. She cites her long, uninterrupted residency in Ohio as an advantage in understanding the district.

And, she adds, her two decades in medical devices and health care support businesses are valuable. 

“I’ve raised my family here. I’ve run my business here. I’m very much a reflection of the district,” Palmer said. “My husband and I both grew up here. We know the trials and tribulations of the state, and we know how to solve these issues.” 

Palmer says she’s concerned that gerrymandering has made what’s now the 16th District vulnerable to outside political interests, and she wants to change that.  

David Cohen, assistant director of the University Of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, says the upcoming election is one in which pushback against an existing political order could succeed. 

“It’s a midterm election,” Cohen said. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm, I think, on both sides but particularly on the Democratic side, and it has the potential for a Democratic wave. A wave election can break the stronghold of gerrymandering.”   

Palmer is campaigning on a range of subjects. One focus is on revitalizing the region’s competitiveness.

“We need to look at infrastructure investments to bring manufacturers back to the Midwest. We need to focus on lowering our electrical cost,” she said. “That’s what manufacturers look for. That’s how countries stay competitive, it’s with their infrastructure investments.”

Another concern is the burden of health care costs on the economy.  

“The American public fully supports controlling the cost side of health care. Now why haven’t we already?” Palmer asked. “We’ve moved into what I call a ‘donor democracy.’ So you’ve got a lot of pharmaceutical companies, medical companies giving money to candidates to support their position of no cost containment.” 

Cohen says Palmer’s health care background may be a credibility asset for her in the campaign. On the Republican side of the ballot, Cohen says Gonzalez could benefit from part of his professional background too, but in a different way. 

“I think Anthony Gonzalez has a significant advantage because, even though he is a political newcomer, he has something that Susan Moran Palmer doesn’t have: built-in name recognition,” Cohen said. “To a certain extent, Anthony Gonzalez is a celebrity. He’s a very well-known former football player. And that kind of exposure is priceless for a political candidate.” 

Gonzalez, who played football at The Ohio State University and in the NFL, says he’s not sure how significant that may be – but it’s not why he decided to run.   

“For me, it all starts with just a deep love and appreciation for Northeast Ohio and everything it has meant for me and my family,” Gonzalez said. “My family emigrated here from Cuba in 1960 and the state of Ohio welcomed us with open arms. It’s all been about kind of the values that I think make northeast Ohio great.” 

On immigration, Gonzalez says the system is broken inside and it’s up to Congress to fix it. He favors President Trump’s “wall” but wants children brought to the U.S. illegally through no fault of their own to be able to stay until they can be legally admitted.

His campaign focus also includes education and health care.

“The healthcare system is way too expensive and it feels patently unfair to people in this country,” Gonzalez says. “So that’s one we have to address: healthcare.”

He also has ideas on trade and workforce development.

“The global trading system needs major reform,” he says. “It needs to be more balanced and more fair to, candidly, Northeast Ohio.”

For voters in the 16th District, the choice in November will be which newcomer to elect. And since it will be in a midterm election that may include a national “wave” for the opposition party, might the 16th be a seat that flips? 

“The 16th Congressional District is not quite as safe in a wave election as some Congressional districts in more rural areas,” said Cohen. “But Jim Renacci won this seat two years ago with a 30 point spread. So, it’s a pretty safe seat.”