A Harbaugh Elected in Ohio? You’ll Know It’s a Wave

Nathan L. Gonzales June 5, 2017 · 8:46 AM EDT

Next year, everyone will publish election guides explaining which races to watch to figure out the winds of the midterms and predict if a wave is on the horizon. But if you only have time to watch one race, watch Ohio’s 7th District.

On Thursday, former Navy pilot Ken Harbaugh, a Democrat, announced his challenge to Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs. The first-time candidate burst onto the campaign trail with a shovel and plastic bag ready to “clean up a mess” in Washington. As a veteran and president of a disaster relief organization, Team Rubicon Global, Harbaugh is credentialed as an outsider at a time when congressional job approval is still hovering around 20 percent.

Even though Harbaugh’s candidacy might look good on paper, he’ll need a political wave to overcome the partisan lean of the district and even his surname.

Donald Trump carried the Canton-based district 63 to 33 percent over Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. And Mitt Romney won it 54 to 44 percent over President Barack Obama in 2012. Gibbs was re-elected with 64 percent of the vote last fall and his 2018 race is currently rated Solid Republican.

But Harbaugh might have a bigger problem than his partisan affiliation; he shares a last name with the head football coach at the University of Michigan.

For readers who might not understand the severity of the problem, the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes are arch rivals. They’ve been playing each other in football for over a century (Michigan leads the all-time series 58-48-6) and there is no love lost between the two schools, their fans, and alumni.

Ohio State is on a five-game winning streak, but head coach Jim Harbaugh and Michigan came close last year, falling short 30-27 in two overtimes. 

The bottom line is that if a Democrat with the last name of Harbaugh wins a congressional district in Ohio that Trump won by 30 points, Republicans could be headed for historic losses.