Note: This story appears in the Sunday, Sept. 8 newspaper on Page A1.
For a second-straight election cycle, the 15th Congressional District race may be a battle of Columbus vs. Columbus.
Daniel Kilgore, a 27-year-old Democrat, has announced plans to challenge U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington) for the seat.
The 15th District includes 12 counties in Southern and Central Ohio, including nearly all of Athens County.
Kilgore is originally from northern Ohio and has lived in Columbus for a few years. His prior political experience includes having served as a volunteer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
In a recent interview with The Messenger, Kilgore said that experience made him want to seek political office and fight for his own policy priorities. He looked into running for the 2018 election cycle, but stayed on the sidelines; German Village resident Rick Neal won the Democratic primary and wound up losing the race to Stivers.
A Facebook page identifies Kilgore as an “actor, model, activist and politician.” An issues page on the campaign website notes his beliefs that the U.S. should invest more in infrastructure; provide more funding for public schooling; reform a “fundamentally broken” criminal justice system; enact a Medicare for All healthcare system; and institute universal background checks to curb gun violence, among other policy issues.
Kilgore also mentions wanting to “overturn the disastrous ‘Citizens United’ bill and get dark money out of politics” and states “this bill allowed corporations to be counted as people to influence our government.” Citizens United v. FEC was actually a U.S. Supreme Court case on campaign finance, not a bill from Congress, which allowed political expenditures from corporations and other groups.
Kilgore described the “foundation” of his candidacy to be an “economic bill of rights” as proposed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This includes providing Americans a living wage, a right to own a home, the right to good education, sick time pay and security leave, and a social safety net.
Were he to win the Democratic primary next March, Kilgore would face Stivers in the General Election. Stivers is a five-term incumbent who has already raised nearly $1 million for his 2020 re-election effort.
Stivers spent just shy of $5 million during the two-year election cycle leading up to his 2018 re-election over Neal. Stivers won the race, 58.5 to 39.5 percent over Neal, with Libertarian candidate Jonathan Miller earning 2 percent.
Kilgore said that being a political newcomer would make a potential race against Stivers a challenge, but added he hoped to be more personable and relate to people within the 15th District. He sees his younger age as a positive, saying “my generation has to take up the mantle.”
Kilgore has yet to campaign in Southeast Ohio but said he hoped to travel down here soon. He suggested plans to visit Hocking Valley Community Hospital to gain perspective on rural hospitals and broader healthcare issues.
It is unclear if other candidates of either party intend to campaign for the 15th District seat. The filing deadline is months away. Kilgore filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission in July.
There are no indications that previous Democratic challengers Neal (2018) and Scott Wharton (2014, 2016) plan to run again. Kirstin Alvanitakis, a spokesperson for the Ohio Democratic Party, told The Messenger the state party is “actively recruiting for our 2020 races and meeting with any and all interested candidates.”