The two Democratic candidates for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District faced questions about electability, infrastructure and their backstories from both media and an audience of about 30 people at a voter forum Tuesday night in the Athens Community Center.
In the race for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District, Democratic candidates Daniel Kilgore and Joel Newby are trying to make their case for who is best suited to unseat incumbent Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington. The voter forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters and was moderated by Athens City Councilwoman Beth Clodfelter, D-At-Large.
Both candidates, who are first-time politicians with little name recognition, had little daylight between them when answering questions based on policy, but found noticeable differences in their background and whose story lends itself to being more electable in a district that covers large swaths of central and southeast Ohio.
Kilgore, who grew up in Willard, Ohio, now resides in Columbus. He does acting and modeling work as a side-job but has also worked as a volunteer for the Human Rights Campaign and as a campaign volunteer for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“It’s time we actually get someone that's a real person, not a career politician, that's not lobbied in with the millionaires, the billionaires the big pharmaceutical companies, someone that actually understands what real America is like and comes from real American issues,” Kilgore said.
Kilgore billed himself as a candidate who not only has sympathy for people but can directly relate to their struggles. Currently working a full-time job while campaigning, he grew up living with his grandparents and became homeless at one point in his life.
Newby, who is an Ohio University alumnus, made his argument based on his origin as well, citing how he grew up in Pickaway County, went to college in Athens County and now lives in Columbus working as a lawyer. He argued that his life experience of living throughout the different parts of the district lends him credibility and trust among its constituents.
“This county built me and because I come from you, I will be able to go to Washington, D.C. and represent you,” Newby said.
Newby took an early focus on improving infrastructure by expanding rural broadband and transitioning to green energy, which can be a bipartisan effort. He said this includes pushing for green energy railways and establishing a green energy grid based on solar and wind farms.
“It is my opinion that you cannot build an economy unless you have the infrastructure to build an economy on,” Newby said.
Kilgore also wants to work to update electric grid and infrastructure, but said it’s dependent on funding.
“We’re falling behind the rest of the world and we’ve got to get caught up,” Kilgore said. “I will do everything in my power to make sure we are caught up and hopefully we can surpass other nations that we’re lagging behind.”
Kilgore and Newby both made arguments that they would be better suited to address issues like federal funding for small farms and the opioid crisis compared to Stivers, who has been in office since 2011. Both candidates said Stivers fails to represent areas of the district like Athens and argued that he pays more attention to the suburbs of Columbus.
“We all know this district was gerrymandered so Steve Stivers could live in Upper Arlington and never have to worry about Vinton, Athens or Hocking County,” Newby said. “I have so many connections through here that it is inconceivable to me that I would just go to Washington D.C. and forget.”
Kilgore agreed and called Stivers a “phantom representative,” meaning he is never there. Kilgore said the first thing he’d do is become more accessible and establish an office in every county.
“Columbus has been the center of power for this district. It’s time we bring the power back to the counties, especially the southern ones,” Kilgore said.
The League of Women voters attempted to organize a forum between Stivers and his primary challenger Shelby Hunt but was unable to as neither candidate was able to participate. Hunt will be at a different event organized by the League next Tuesday at Trimble High School, which includes Democratic candidates for the Athens County Treasurer race and Republicans for Ohio’s 78th State House district.
Ohio’s primary takes place on March 17 and the deadline to register to vote is February 18.