Freshman Ohio Rep. Steve Driehaus in Tough Rematch With Predecessor

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WATCH Battleground Ohio

Two years ago, disaffected voters here helped to elect Barack Obama president and also elected Democrat Steve Driehaus to Congress -- sending Steve Chabot, the Republican who represented them for seven terms in the House, packing. Now, in a rematch that most political insiders have declared an all-but-certain defeat for the Democrat, Cincinnati-area voters seem poised to return their old congressman to Washington.

"The nature of this district makes it a tight race," Driehaus said, calling this an election that's "going to go down to the wire."

The widely-held conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C. is that the first congressional district of Ohio is a sure win, and a return to Congress, for Chabot. ABC News rates the race as being one that "Leans Republican."

What's changed in Ohio's first Congressional district since 2008?

"Well, two years ago, Barack Obama got a lot of people out to vote in this area who had never voted before, and I think that was the big difference," said Robert "Bo" Bemmes, the Republican mayor of Reading, a Cincinnati suburb in the district with a population of about 11,000. "With what's happened in the last two years, I don't think that enthusiasm will be maintained."

In representing a state that has an unemployment rate that exceeds the 9.6 percent national average, the incumbent Democrat has been hammered by his opponent for supporting the economic stimulus, health care reform and the Democrats' energy plan.

Driehaus said that in this climate, some voters who embraced him two years ago are being turned off by what he called "intentional misinformation" about his record.

"It's a challenge this time," Driehaus admits. "Not in terms of mobilization of the base, but [sensing] where the swing is -- where the independent voters are, and what information they're listening to."

"Are they getting it from cable news? Are they getting it from radio? Are they getting it from the internet?" Driehaus asked.

In his ads, Chabot accuses Driehaus of siding with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the expense of his constituents.

"Instead of standing up for us, he rolled over for his party leaders," Chabot says in the ad that greets visitors to his website.

"It's very simple," says local Tea Party activist Mike Wilson, who's running for the state legislature. "[Driehaus] voted for Cap and Trade, he voted for the stimulus, he voted for Obamacare. I don't think you have to do much more than point that out to voters, and they're going to make the correct decision."

The incumbent says he's proud of his record, calling his decision to back health care reform the right one "because it helps the constituents of the first congressional district."

"It's just simpler for the Republicans because they use trite phrases to characterize what we've done in Congress," Driehaus said.

Chabot, whose victory in 1994 over former Democrat Rep. David Mann helped his party win control of the House, could again become a "majority maker," if he's reelected this year.

Wilson, the Tea Party activist, says voters of this district seek change now, just as they did two years ago.

"People were frustrated with the direction of government, but what they got with Driehaus and Obama certainly wasn't what they expected," he said.

"We still have unemployment, and economic and health care situations are still a big issue. So I think people are frustrated, probably," explained Diana Housley, an accountant who works in Driehaus's district but lives in another, one that's more reliably Republican. She says her neighbors are too quick to judge the Democrats a failure.

"I say just give it a little more time. The Democratic Party and President Obama walked into quite a few long, deep messes, and nothing's a quick fix," Housley said.

In his interview with ABC News, and in his ads, Driehaus stresses the strides the Democrats have made since they took control of the White House and the Congress.

"People are going to work. We're investing in jobs of the future," he says in one commercial.

"We're in a tough election cycle because we stood up and did the right thing for the American people," Driehaus said. "It's been mischaracterized by the right, and, you know, the right is running with that."