MEDINA — A crowd gathered under umbrellas on a rainy Tuesday afternoon to hear local and statewide tea party speakers condemn what they perceive as big government spending and the “liberal agenda.”
In the backdrop, a bus bearing “November is Coming,” which brought speakers from Americans for Prosperity, a tea party group, was parked on Public Square.
While tea party groups are making their presence known, it is unclear how they will affect November’s races for U.S. House seats representing Medina County — the 13th and 16th. Running in November are Democratic incumbents Betty Sutton in the 13th and John Boccieri in the 16th.
Their Republican opponents are Tom Ganley and Jim Renacci, respectively.
Rebecca Heimlich, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said her organization is nonprofit and not affiliated with any political party, the group handed out petitions telling signers that “U.S. Congressman John Boccieri votes in Lockstep with the Pelosi agenda,” linking him to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom they describe as having an “ultra-liberal agenda.”
Heimlich said the “November is Coming” bus was created to tell politicians that “if you vote yes on health care (reform), we will vote no for you.”
In advertisements, the group asked voters to “send a message to Boccieri” to protest his votes on health care reform and other Democratic Party-backed legislation.
The group stops short of endorsing Boccieri’s opponent, though some tea party groups find common ground with Renacci’s platform, his campaign manager said.
“Jim’s had a very positive reception from the tea party movement,” James Slepian said. He described Renacci as a “proud Republican” who is “running as an American first.”
Renacci has spoken at tea party rallies in Canton and has invited tea party leaders to his office, Slepian said, and he opposed the recent health care overhaul.
Like Americans for Prosperity, Slepian linked Pelosi to Boccieri, saying Boccieri voted with Pelosi “95 percent of the time.”
“Yesterday it was 94, today it is 95 percent,” Boccieri said of the claim. “That’s one of the most dishonest (claims) I’ve heard in the campaign because the speaker doesn’t vote. It’s dishonest.”
When asked why it matters how often Boccieri votes on Pelosi-backed legislation, Slepian said: “Nancy Pelosi is driving a lot of the legislation right now. At some point, Nancy Pelosi must have gotten to him. There are certain members who bend to pressure.”
Boccieri, however, asserted Renacci aligns himself with tea partiers while he tries to remain a moderate.
“What they support is a person who’s going to be the most moderate,” Boccieri said of his constituents. “Sometimes that’s a very lonely place in Washington because you’re in the middle.”
Since taking office in 2008, Boccieri said he’s cast 1,464 votes and has voted with Republicans 847 of those times.
Renacci’s campaign, however, points to Boccieri’s affirmative vote on the health care overhaul.
“If he had run in 2008 as a Nancy Pelosi Democrat and won, perhaps that would have been different,” Slepian said.
“I’m not voting with the people who want to take us backwards instead of forward,” Boccieri said.
“I spoke to (tea party members) in Washington, and I think they’re people who love their country. I think we may have a little difference of opinion, (but) I think we need to head forward, not backward,” he said.
While Slepian said he can’t say whether tea party members are influencing Renacci or he’s influencing them, the relationship his campaign has with them is “positive.”
“We think it’s good for our campaign overall,” he said.
Contact Kaitlin Bushinski at (330) 721-4050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.