In Congressional Race, Let the Boys Fight; A Woman Will Prevail

 For the past year and a half, we have seen constant coverage of one primary and one primary only: the Democratic presidential primary. At this point, many Oberlin students and community members have already decided who they will be voting for as the Democratic nominee for president. Yet, if you asked Oberlin students who is running for Congress in our district, most would be at a loss for words. 

Perhaps this is due to the fact that students see no scenario in which a Democratic opponent unseats Republican incumbent Representative Jim Jordan in our heinously gerrymandered district. Well, for the first time since Oberlin was gerrymandered into Ohio’s 4th congressional district, I can say with absolute confidence that we have a real chance to successfully elect a Democratic candidate as our representative. That candidate is Democrat Shannon Freshour.

This past Monday, I attended the Jordan Watch’s congressional debate in Elyria. All three Democratic candidates — Jeffrey Sites, Mike Larsen, and Shannon Freshour — were in attendance, in addition to independent Chris Gibbs and Libertarian Steve Perkins. Moderated by former Democratic congressional candidate Janet Garrett, all five candidates answered questions regarding health care, social security, gun control, education, and the union busting occurring right here at Oberlin College. The three Democratic candidates appeared to hold very similar policy positions on all of the issues, while independent Chris Gibbs tended to have more moderate, bipartisan stances. 

Before I make my case for why Oberlin students and community members should back Shannon Freshour’s campaign, I want to highlight each candidate currently in the race. Each candidate showed different strengths and weaknesses. 

Jeffrey Sites, a veteran and current assistant manager of shipping and receiving, did an excellent job of weaving his policy positions and personal narrative. When asked about healthcare and Social Security, Sites talked about his brother who is disabled and depends on affordable health care and Social Security in order to survive. On the topic of United Automobile Workers union firings at Oberlin College, Sites talked about his father, a former UAW union member. Still, based on current polling, fundraising numbers, and social media following, it appears that Sites has failed to create enough momentum surrounding his candidacy in order to win the primary election. 

Mike Larsen — a writer, former union member, and former senior advisor to Representative Jackie Speier — knows how to engage an audience. He speaks with intention and has the energy necessary to excite voters throughout the district. Despite this, his most memorable moments of the night consisted of him engaging in petty fighting with Chris Gibbs — even though he will not be facing Gibbs in the Democratic primary. 

Even more puzzling, there are some disconnects between his progressivism on Twitter and mainstream messaging in person. In addition to attacking his fellow opponents, Larsen brands himself as the only progressive running against Jim Jordan, often touting his support for progressive policies like Medicare For All. Yet, throughout the debate, there was no mention of his support of Medicare For All, even when the topic of healthcare was brought up. 

Did he merely forget to mention his support for Medicare For All and other bold progressive policies? Did he believe that swinging too far left could hurt his support among voters who attended the debate? Or does he only conveniently mention his progressivism on Twitter, when it benefits him and his social media following? If Larsen is truly running as the “only progressive,” I would’ve appreciated that distinction between him and his opponents at the debate. 

Then, there is Chris Gibbs, a farmer and former Republican from Shelby County. Because he is running as an independent, he will not be showing up on the primary ballot. I want to take this moment to thank Chris Gibbs because his candidacy is the reason we will have a Democratic congressperson come 2021. Even if he takes just five to seven percent of Jim Jordan’s voters, the eventual Democratic nominee will finally have the numbers to defeat Jordan in the general election. 

Chris Gibbs and I agree on very little. I am progressive, and he is a former Republican who voted for Trump in 2016. Still, I have a lot of respect for Gibbs, not only for denouncing Trump and the Republican Party earlier this year, but also for taking the time to listen, grow, and learn as a candidate. When Gibbs first came to Oberlin back in December for a listening session, he faced pushback on his policy positions surrounding gun rights and gun sense reform. At the debate, it was clear that Gibbs had grown since his visit back in December. He talked about how he is a proud gun owner but understands that steps must be taken to curb gun violence in Ohio and throughout the country. Yes, this is not the answer I want to hear from my candidate. I want to hear that my candidate supports closing the boyfriend loophole, implementing universal background checks, and banning assault weapons, which all three Democratic candidates support. Still, there was nuance and growth in his response that I had not seen from him earlier, and for that, he earns my respect. 

Meanwhile, Libertarian Steve Perkins failed to show any comprehension of the policies, issues, and questions being raised and stated the words “rights and consent” more times than I can count. When asked about gun control, he pulled out a fake plastic gun and talked about Second Amendment rights. Despite Garrett asking attendees of the debate to refrain from booing, Perkins was booed. I disagree with libertarianism, but that is not the issue here. The problem is that Perkins was not even able to make the case for his policy positions. Whether it was due to lack of knowledge or preparation, it became clear from the opening statements that Perkins is the weak link out of the five candidates. 

This brings me to Shannon Freshour. Truthfully, I went into this debate with low expectations. In fact, I thought that given my policy positions, I would more closely align with Mike Larsen. Boy, was I wrong! Shannon Freshour embodies all of the positives that I mentioned earlier. She did an excellent job weaving her personal story and policies, energizing voters, and targeting Jim Jordan in all of her answers. 

While Gibbs and Larsen were having their little boys fight, Freshour rose above it, and stayed focused on giving Ohio’s fourth congressional district the representation it deserves. When asked about gun violence prevention, she pointed to the plastic gun Perkins brought with him and said, “That looks like the toy gun Tamir Rice was playing with when he was shot and killed.” She then proceeded to talk about the specific gun sense policies she would support as a member of Congress. When asked about UAW firings at Oberlin, she affirmed her support for unions and praised Oberlin students and community members for their activism and advocacy. After noticing that I was visibly upset at the absence of questioning on reproductive justice, Freshour came right up to me after the debate finished and said, “The only people who should get to make medical decisions about my body are me and my doctor. And the only people who should get to make medical decisions about your body are you and your doctor — period.” Freshour is confident, smart, personable, and determined.

As you continue to weigh your decision on whom to support for the presidential primary, I encourage you to look at the three excellent candidates running for the Democratic nomination to unseat Jim Jordan and choose the candidate that is right for you. Make calls, volunteer, go door knocking, and most importantly — vote. For the first time, Democrats can win a race in a gerrymandered district. And with that I say: Jim Jordan, be scared.