Congressional Candidates Campaign in Oberlin

Despite fears over the novel coronavirus — or COVID-19 — community spread, Democratic candidates running in Ohio’s fourth Congressional district have ramped up their campaign efforts. Some candidates, including Shannon Freshour and Jeffrey Sites, have increased their presence in Oberlin in recent weeks.

Freshour, Sites, and Mike Larsen will all be on the ballot during Tuesday’s contest for the Democratic congressional nomination. The winner will face incumbent Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, the founder of the far-right House Freedom Caucus who has represented the district since 2007. Independent candidate Chris Gibbs also plans to run in the general election against Jordan.

Sites, a warehouse assistant manager and U.S. Army veteran, joined Oberlin College students at the March 5 rally in support of the United Automobile Workers union. Sites felt it was essential to stand in solidarity with workers because his father was a UAW member, and other members of his family are also union workers.

“It just seemed right for me to go up there, and I was very happy to be up there with them and show the support,” Sites said. “The outpouring from the students is just tremendous, and I was very proud of them to see that kind of turnout for people who work there at the university.”

Freshour’s campaign manager Matt Bell also attended the March 5 rally. For Freshour, it was important for her campaign to show support for union workers.

“This is a job that I’m applying for that is about helping people and about helping the working class and about helping students,” Freshour said. “That’s why it’s so important to me in this capacity as a candidate to be able to bring visibility to it. … I’m really proud to stand with Oberlin students and the UAW in this fight.”

Freshour opened a campaign office this week on East College Street in Oberlin.

“We’ve gotten such positive feedback from students and the Oberlin community that I wanted to make it easier if students wanted to get involved in our campaign,” she said.

Both Freshour and Sites have found that it can be difficult to campaign in Oberlin and the surrounding areas. Sites works full time and it takes him two to three hours to travel to Oberlin from his home in Lima, which is in the western part of the district. His campaign has made use of other tactics such as TV ads and mailers.

Fair districting activists, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, have previously levied legal action against the state and called upon legislators to amend the gerrymandered map.

The district, nicknamed the “Duck District,” stretches approximately 103 miles north to south and 135 miles east to west. Freshour has spent a lot of time driving from each end of the district.

“The other really big challenge so far is just how massive the district is,” Freshour said. “It’s 14 counties that spread from almost the county that touches the Indiana state line to Oberlin and Elyria. It goes down near Columbus. It goes up to Lima. There is no way to go from north, east, south, west and go in a straight line and stay in the district.”

As the candidates travel around the district in preparation for next week’s election, they are also adapting their campaigns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. President Carmen Twillie Ambar announced Thursday that today is the last day of classes before spring break and that only students with extenuating circumstances will be allowed to stay on campus after Monday at noon.

“Our campaign is taking the COVID-19 virus as a serious issue and we are taking precautions leading up to the March 17 election,” said Matt Bell, Shannon Freshour’s campaign manager. “We are coordinating with the Ohio Board of Elections and the Ohio Democratic Party. Our grassroots campaign relies heavily on person-to-person contact, but we will be canceling all pre-scheduled canvass launch events this weekend.”

Next week’s elections will be held on Tuesday, March 17. Most students’ polling place will be Philips gym. Voting will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Students who are leaving campus before Tuesday can vote early at the Lorain County Board of Elections at 1985 North Ridge Road, Lorain, OH. More information is available at