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First-Time Congressional Candidate Embraces The Unconventionality Of 2016

LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

We're going to turn now to one of those candidates in a down-ballot race, Donald Larson. Mr. Larson is a Republican running for Congress in Ohio against Democrat incumbent Marcy Kaptur. He's a small-business owner and has never run for office before. Mr. Larson joins us now from WCPN in Cleveland, Ohio. Thanks for joining us, Mr. Larson.

DONALD LARSON: Thank you for having me in.

SINGH: So what prompted you to finally make a run for Congress?

LARSON: Well, I've lived in the 9th District for about 16 years now. My representative used to be Dennis Kucinich. And then after the redistricting in the 2010 census, it got merged in with Marcy Kaptur's district. And if you listen to my background, obviously, you know, ex-Navy guy, small business, engineer, MBA - you know, I'm pretty fiscally conservative, pro-growth, low tax.

I could never talk to my congressman about any issues 'cause it's just such an incredible divide, whether it's national security or tax policy, growing the economy. So if I'm going to complain about it for 10 years, at some point maybe you ought to do something about it and throw your hat in the ring.

SINGH: And you finally decided to do that. You chose to wait, though, until 2016 to make your first run for Congress. And you've suggested that the timing could not be better for you, in part because of Donald Trump. Is that right?

LARSON: Well, really the whole election cycle. When I first started thinking seriously about this, I was like, jeez, can I really do this? And I was having a conversation with a - an adviser I really trust down in Columbus. And at the beginning of the call, he was like, you shouldn't do this. You've got no chance. You can't win.

And then he said, wait a minute. This is a year when people are ready to listen to something different. If this was 2012 with no drama, Obama at the top of the ticket and a perfectly clean, ideal election cycle, you can't beat an incumbent.

SINGH: So let me ask you this, Mr. Larson, I understand that you like Trump's anti-establishment tone. You've suggested as much, especially considering your experiences with the national Republican Party. Have you had much help from them?

LARSON: The national party and I really don't interact much at all. After I won the primary, I put a call into Washington. I believe I called the NRCC, and I got a return phone call, like, five weeks later. So Washington is concerned about Washington.

The party's structure there is designed to hold what they already have. They're out working very aggressively with the incumbents. They're not talking about growing the pie and moving into those areas that have been neglected, lost, whatever you want to call them for the last decades.

SINGH: Some of your fellow Republicans, they are attempting to distance themselves from the Trump campaign because of the continuing political fallout since that 2005 tape emerged. So do you find yourself having to take some unexpected, perhaps extraordinary steps to sort of help buffer your campaign from this political fallout?

LARSON: When I'm out in the district - and I was out there last night - no one - and I'm truly - I was in a room of about 70 people - not one person of the 70 asked me about what was going on with Donald Trump. They're focused on the other issues here - again, the economy being number one and then the national defense, securing the border. It really - in my race - and I won't speak to, you know, someone who might be running in the middle of Manhattan or San Francisco or, you know, other - you know, major metropolitan cities - maybe it comes up all the time with them - but it really doesn't here.

SINGH: Donald Larson is running for Congress in Ohio's 9th District. He's never run for office before and is running as a Republican. Mr. Larson, thanks for talking with us.

LARSON: Thank you, Ms. Singh. It has been a pleasure spending the afternoon with you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SINGH: Just a reminder, the final presidential debate is Wednesday night at 9 Eastern. There will be live coverage on many NPR stations, and we'll be fact-checking the presidential debate online at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.