Daniel Kilgore is one of two Democrats challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Stivers for Ohio District 15 in 2020. Stivers is a juggernaut in District 15, and his reelection seems inevitable. Kilgore’s campaign isn’t just a longshot, it’s nearly unthinkable. In fact, according to FiveThirtyEight, it’s a 10% chance at best.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from it. I called Kilgore to see what he believes he can offer.
Stivers has been in Ohio politics since 2003, and a congressman since 2011. Kilgore, on the other hand, has never held elected office. Kilgore hopes his fresh ideas can challenge Stiver’s right-wing platform.
Kilgore’s reason for running isn’t complex; it can be boiled down to the fact that nobody else wanted to take on the challenge.
“It seems like nobody wanted to do it…everyone’s like ‘Oh it’s impossible to win, don’t even bother,’” he said. “They keep saying it’s useless, but when people tell you that, it kind of makes you [wonder]: Why can’t you?”
Kilgore is familiar with discouragement. He claims the Franklin County Democrats told him, “It’s pointless, it’s useless, don’t even bother.” He says Franklin County Democrats told him it would find a more established candidate, but there doesn’t appear to be many “qualified” candidates eager to fight for District 15 in 2020.
While Kilgore is a long way from a favorite in this election, that attitude from party leaders doesn’t provide much hope for the district. Kilgore believes Stivers is a “bully,” and the Franklin County Democrats have no interest in stopping him.
For Kilgore, and many other Democrats in Ohio and nationally, the fight against the GOP is about the forgotten working class. Stivers’ representation fits the Trumpian mold of the modern Republican Party. He has a strong base with conservatives, and if he can reach that base and inflame their concerns, he can keep winning. Kilgore aims to use the economic divide and disparity in the district to challenge Stivers.
The average income in Grove City is $58,000 and only $26,000 in Nelsonville. Due to strategic gerrymandering, both of those towns are in the same district. That is where Kilgore’s “Square New Deal” could have traction. His plan is — at its core — a restoration and expansion of America’s social safety net programs started under Franklin D. Roosevelt.
That similarity is not a coincidence. Kilgore idolizes FDR and shapes his platform around Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights. He sees the plan as an opportunity to bridge the divide between economically polar communities. He laid out how his plan will cover areas ranging from economic inequality to the protection of the environment.
As for the City of Athens, the leading Democrat will have no issue gaining votes. Rural Athens County is a different story, however. But Kilgore says he has a strategy: “I have a group of people in Lancaster, and I’ve also been talking to people in Pickaway County, and even as far down as Ross County…There has to be some communication lines between the county parties and the people that are trying to represent you.”
He seems to want to end the dominance of Franklin County.
“For so long it seems that Franklin County has controlled everything in the district,” he said. “It seems like everything is controlled through Franklin County for almost the whole entire state...Certain counties feel forgotten, and those things have to change.”
The biggest takeaway from Kilgore’s campaign is his desire to challenge the party. Until someone with dedication or a vested interest in Appalachia is elected, the powers in Columbus will continue to dominate politics.
It’s improbable Kilgore will be District 15’s representative after 2020’s election, but his campaign has value. If the party continues to passively watch Stivers dominate, poverty and inequality in the district will go unaddressed.
Noah Wright is a junior studying strategic communication at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Noah? Tweet him @NoahCampaign.