TROY, Ohio -- The enormity of Warren Davidson’s win on March 15 didn’t sink in until his cell phone began to ring that evening.
It was House Speaker Paul Ryan.
“This guy is calling for me,” a stunned Davidson remembered thinking.
Within hours after winning the Republican primary for John Boehner’s old seat in Ohio’s 8th Congressional District, Davidson had received more than 150 text messages, his voicemail box was full, and he had already taken congratulatory calls from Boehner and Sen. Rob Portman.
“It’s an unbelievable kind of experience,” he said. “You go from being a regular guy to winning an election like this.”
Davidson, a local business owner and former Army Ranger, beat 14 other Republicans in that primary race. He faces a special election on June 7, but in a heavily GOP district, he is predicted to easily win the seat that Boehner occupied for 24 years.
But this election was bigger than Davidson.
A rare open seat in a solid GOP district that encompasses Middletown, Hamilton, Fairfield and Troy was a real opportunity for whoever won it. And the fact that it was Boehner’s old seat made the prize even sweeter.
“A lot of people did see it as symbolic, to replace a candidate of the perceived establishment with a member of the true conservative,” said Jared Kamrass, a political consultant at Rivertown Strategies. ”I do think there is some symbolic notoriety.”
Even Davidson recognized as much.
“There was a national theme going on that didn’t even involve the candidates in the race,” Davidson said. “It wasn’t surprising that there was some national interest because it was speaker Boehner’s old seat.”
“But John Boehner wasn’t on the ballot,” he said.
A Small-Town Boy, an Army Ranger
Davidson’s life seems custom fit for conservative endorsements.
He was a small-town boy who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, became an Army Ranger, married a young missionary, founded a successful manufacturing business and raised two teenage children with his wife of 20 years.
Davidson, 46, lives in Troy, where he runs Global Source Molds, and isn’t used to getting much attention.
“I’m not a political guy,” he said.
When candidates began filing for Boehner’s seat last year, Davidson wondered who would win it. These political conversations with his friends eventually ended with a question to him: “Why not you?”
“The biggest thing is a lot of the country is not happy with what Congress is doing,” he said. “If we keep sending the same sort of people (to Washington) we might just keep getting the same sort of result, or lack of result.”
After doing some research and realizing the seat was winnable, Davidson turned in his paperwork on Dec. 16, the last day for candidates to file, and seeded his campaign with $100,000 of his own money. Then he began looking for endorsements.
He asked for a meeting with Club for Growth, a political action committee that supports fiscally conservative candidates, and when they accepted, he was cautiously optimistic.
“They had already talked to four people in the race,” he said. “They don’t always get involved in campaigns, or like to get involved, unless they find someone they agree with.”
On Jan. 12, Club for Growth endorsed him. Within two months, they would spend $1.1 million to help him win.
“It was a huge endorsement,” he said, thinking the group may spend $70,000 or $80,000. “I had no idea I would get that kind of money.”
Their ads portrayed Davidson as an outsider and a breath of fresh air, and criticized his top competitors, state Rep. Tim Derickson and Sen. Bill Beagle as career politicians.
Other endorsements followed from House Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan, Family Research Council, Tea Party Express, FreedomWorks and others.
In the end, Davidson won the primary with 32.6 percent of the vote and beat second-place finisher Derickson by nearly 11,000 votes. The remaining slate of GOP candidates were far behind him.
Yet Davidson doesn't credit his win to the slew of national endorsements and outside money.
“I think to the opposite is true,” he said. “We got the endorsements because we could win.”
Davidson’s Goals in DC
Davidson is already recruiting for his Washington team, although he can’t make formal job offers until after the June election.
If he wins over Democrat Corey Foister and Green Party candidate James Condit Jr., which is highly likely, he faces another general election in November.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “It’s a lot of unknown, but also a lot of optimism."
The first bill that Davidson hopes to enact would limit the health care benefits of members of Congress to the same benefits that veterans receive.
“So Congress gives acute interest to the quality and accessibility of the health care system our veterans are dealing with,” he said.
Davidson said he’d like to serve on the U.S. House Committee on Armed Services, and subcommittees on national security, emerging threats and capabilities, and commerce, manufacturing and trade.
“I think I could go and contribute on these committees from day one,” he said.
Rick Little, who served on the board of Dayton Region Manufacturers Association with Davidson, knows him as a man of action.
“He’s very, very focused,” he said. “He sees his objective and he really puts everything he has into getting it.”
Despite his list of endorsements, Davidson said he doesn’t brand himself as anything other than a Republican. He said he will rely more on data, rather than ideology and party position, to drive his voting.
“I’m a data-driven guy,” he said. “I just hope some people are open to being persuaded by facts.”
Yet the groups that backed him may have their own expectations.
“He (Davidson) will hopefully join the House Freedom Caucus in its mission to defend economic freedom and its fight for limited government,” according to Club for Growth’s website.
But Davidson sees things differently.
“Thanks for the support, but I don’t look at that support as people trying to purchase something,” he said.