POLITICO -- At times, Rep. Jean Schmidt has been closer to Turkish interests than those of her Cincinnati-area constituents. Never was that proximity problem more telling than on Tuesday, when Republicans denied Schmidt renomination to run for another term.
While voters were casting ballots that day, Schmidt was in Washington, D.C., at a private luncheon with Turkish Ambassador Namik Tan, several sources told POLITICO.
The decision to stay in the nation’s capital — and particularly to focus on Turkish-American relations — is the best evidence yet that Schmidt simply didn’t get how much trouble she was in back home.
Schmidt’s primary rival, Brad Wenstrup, hammered her during the campaign for having taken $500,000 in free legal assistance from Turkish-American activists, a sum the House Ethics Committee told her to repay after looking into allegations that the money constituted an improper gift.
Schmidt spokesman Barrett Brunsman declined to comment directly on why Schmidt met with Tan or whether she regretted attending the luncheon rather than flying back to Cincinnati to spend the last day of the primary on the campaign trail.
In a lengthy email exchange, Brunsman didn’t acknowledge that the meeting even took place.
“I think you have lost your way,” Brunsman wrote.
In the days since her loss, Republican insiders have marveled at Schmidt’s inability to grasp the electoral jeopardy she was in. Fellow Ohio politicians in tough primaries were back in the Buckeye State Tuesday.
But Schmidt huddled with Tan, State Department officials, Congressional Research Service analysts, representatives of the Turkish-American Council, former Rep. Connie Morella (R-Md.), and Reps. Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.).
Schmidt has long cultivated ties with Turkey, visiting the nation twice as a member of Congress and collecting campaign contributions from Turkish-Americans. She ran into ethics trouble when she accepted free legal help from a Turkish-American group in her lawsuit against a former political opponent of Armenian descent who had accused her of taking “blood money” from Turks.
That group, the Turkish-American Coalition, sponsored one of her trips to Turkey, according to congressional disclosure forms.
Armenian-Americans have been working for years to get Congress to declare that Turkey engaged in genocide against the Armenian people in the early 20th century. But Turkey, which has tremendous geopolitical importance, has managed to stave off those efforts. Its advocates have included former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt.
The Armenian Weekly boasted in a headline last week that the “darling of the Turkish lobby” was booted from office.
Connolly, who moderated the luncheon, emphasized the “bonds of friendship and alliance between Turkey and the U.S.,” Rauf Denktas, a spokesperson for the Turkish Embassy, told POLITICO.
“Ambassador Tan delivered brief remarks on the unfolding events in the Middle East and North Africa. He explained how Turkey sees and analyzes the so-called Arab Spring with a special focus on Syria,” Denktas said. “He emphasized the importance of the Turkish-American relationship, and the ongoing bilateral consultation and cooperation process aimed at facilitating democracy, security and stability in the region.”
Wenstrup beat Schmidt 49 percent to 43 percent with three other candidates combining to account for the remainder of the vote.