The Jim Jordan Seen in Congress Is the One Constituents Know in Ohio

Six members of the Champaign County Preservation Alliance were touring the picturesque downtown in Urbana, the central Ohio town where Representative Jim Jordan has made his mark as a state champion wrestler, an aspiring politician and now a member of Congress.

As they watched his attempt to end the tortured efforts to choose a new House speaker, the uncompromising figure he casts nationally is much the same as seen back home in the heavily gerrymandered, largely Republican, Fourth Congressional District.

The district, which snakes and loops through hundreds of miles of mainly small towns and farmland, is much whiter and slightly poorer, less educated and older than the state at large. It went for Donald Trump in 2020 by nearly a 36 percentage point margin.

Amanda McDaniel, a member of the preservation alliance, is rooting for Jordan’s speaker bid — seeing in him the same principles she holds.

“He shares the same conservative values that I do,” Ms. McDaniel, a 60-year-old retiree, said on Tuesday.

She said she was not troubled by criticism of Mr. Jordan: his failure to pass any legislation in the House as well as claims, which he denies, that he turned a blind eye to sexual abuse by a team physician as an assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State.

Like other supporters, she is comfortable with the populist outsider that Mr. Jordan has been since his days in the Ohio General Assembly some three decades ago.

It is not an approach that builds consensus — a previous Republican speaker called him a “legislative terrorist” — even as he has steadily parlayed it into political success.

“I really hope he does not become speaker,” said Katie Porter, 30, another member of the alliance, who called him too divisive. Ms. Porter added that she disagreed with Mr. Jordan’s hard-line opposition to abortion and believed he now spends too much time in Washington, where he helped establish the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus.

Mr. Jordan embraced right-wing populism long before the Tea Party or Donald Trump made it into a national force. In the early 2000s, Mr. Jordan drew grimaces from Republican leaders of the legislature for opposing a sales-tax increase that even party stalwarts agreed was needed to close a budget gap. But when budget problems prompted the state in 2003 to close the Lima Correctional Facility, a state prison in Mr. Jordan’s State Senate district, he railed against the resulting job losses — without mentioning that he had voted against the state budget that would have kept the prison open.

“Jim wasn’t known for consensus-building and legislation-passing,” said Derrick Seaver, who inherited Mr. Jordan’s seat in the Ohio House of Representatives when Mr. Jordan ascended to the State Senate in 2000. “He wasn’t known as a collaborator. He was going to push his belief system, first and foremost.”

At the Urbana Brewing Company on Tuesday, patrons gave Mr. Jordan passing marks. Eric Forson, 50, said that when he wrote to his elected representatives during the 2013 government shutdown, Mr. Jordan was the only one who responded.

“He met me at a coffee shop in town, and we talked, I thought that was really nice,” Mr. Forson said.

Most people in Urbana have a Jim Jordan story, often suggesting that he isn’t as strident in person as he is in public. “If you interact with him in person, he’s not like he is on TV,” said Missy Esch, a 55-year-old retiree.

Ms. Esch and her husband, Mike, 57 were both hopeful that Mr. Jordan would drum up the votes needed to take the speaker role on Wednesday.

Not everyone was cheering Mr. Jordan on. Thomas Simmonds, 75, was waiting to get his hair cut on Wednesday at Fresh and Faded, a barbershop that caters to a largely Black clientele in downtown Lima.

He blasted Mr. Jordan’s lack of action on crime, housing, drug addiction and unemployment.

“If you never pass legislation, you’ll never get anything done,” Mr. Simmonds said.

In the small city of Sidney, located along the banks of the Great Miami River, a group of women who call themselves The Knit Wits meet weekly in a local coffee shop to knit and visit. Politics is something they tend to avoid, but not this week.

Jean Napier, 73, is not a fan of Mr. Jordan and hopes he gives up seeking the speakership.

She said the area’s heavy Republican lean allows Mr. Jordan to sidestep Democrats who have needs. “If you are a Democrat here, you are nobody,” she said.

Others in the group, like Rose Goins, 83, hope Mr. Jordan continues the fight. She doesn’t mind his contentious side. “We need someone to start throwing flames,” she said.

Meanwhile, the group’s matriarch, Carol Icenagel, 87, sits on the political fence. She says she has voted for Jordan sometimes and other times not. She does not feel optimistic about any politicians, including Mr. Jordan.

“The whole gang just needs to get their act together. Why are they fussing about everything?” Ms. Icenagel said before returning to her knitting.

It’s a common refrain.

“If not him, who else?” Mike Esch said back in Urbana. “They need to elect someone. As an American, this is embarrassing.”

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