In Ohio, Tea Party Proud of Boehner

Some constituents in Ohio applaud Boehner standing his ground.

House Speaker John Boehner answers reporters' questions during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on July 15, 2011, in Washington, D.C.
By + More

House Speaker John Boehner appeared worn out Tuesday as he took the mic and sought to explain why after more than a week, the federal government was still shut down.

"There's never been a president in our history, been a president who didn't negotiate over the debt limit. Never. Not once," Boehner said as he grappled for an explanation. "It's time for us to just sit down and resolve our differences."

[READ: 'This Isn't Some Damn Game,' Boehner Says]

Across Washington, Democrats in the Senate have expressed their condolences to Boehner. They blast the conservatives in his caucus for holding the speaker hostage and have encouraged Boehner to break free of his captors and bring a so-called clean funding bill to the floor of the House.

But those who know him best back home say Washington pundits and Democrats get it all wrong when they claim Boehner is cowtowing to a caucus of extremists.

"He is in greater control than people recognize," says Ross McGregor, a local businessman and Ohio lawmaker. "He enjoys the opportunity to represent the people of the 8th District, but he isn't doing it while being held hostage. He is not that kind of a person."

Boehner isn't just speaker of the House, he's a congressman from Ohio, with constituents just like the other 434 members in the House. And his Republican constituents back home are happy to award him political points for standing his ground.

"People remember the strong vocal leader from the past, and I think they are happy to see Boehner finally take a stand in dealing with the issues facing the country," says Susan McLaughlin, a local member of the Liberty Township Tea Party.

On Capitol Hill, Boehner is seen as the poor moderate who is forced to corral the unruly defund National Security Agency caucus and the food stamp slashing brigade. But back home, Boehner's constituents aren't so different from the tea party members he works alongside in Washington.

[ALSO: Obama Holds the Line on Shutdown, Debt Ceiling Talks]

Ohio's 8th District is the most conservative in the state according to Charlie Cook's partisan index. The district stretches along the Indiana border and around the rural and suburban outskirts of Dayton and Cincinnati. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the congressional district with 62 percent of the vote. At the same time, Boehner easily sailed to re-election with more than 80 percent of the vote.

"Our office has received thousands of calls and emails from around the 8th District and the majority have expressed that they don't want the president's health care law and they don't want a government shutdown," says Brittany Bramell, a spokesman for Boehner. "Ohioans want President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders to finally engage in bipartisan talks with Republicans on a common-sense way forward."

Experts agree, for Boehner while he is leader of his party in the House, politics in this case are local.

"What he is doing right now is going to play very well back home," says Paul Beck, a Ohio politics expert and emeritus political science professor at Ohio State University. "He may run some risk if he made an agreement without getting something really substantial in return [because] he could invite tea party opposition."

McLaughlin acknowledges that conservatives back in the 8th District have grown frustrated with Boehner since he took the speaker's gavel in 2011. Boehner's reliance on Democratic votes to push legislation across the finish line has irritated local conservatives.

[POLL: Americans Just as Divided as Congress on Shutdown]

"Moving into the role of speaker moved him into a different position. If he has a fault in the eyes of conservatives of district 8, it has been over the last few years," McLaughlin says.

The shutdown, while it hurts some local constituents who work at the the neighboring Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, has earned Boehner the renewed respect of local tea party groups and other conservative lawmakers back home.

"People are frustrated with the shutdown as much as John Boehner is frustrated with the shutdown," says McGregor, who is also a Boehner ally in the state. "But the speaker is saying we need to have these conversations and people appreciate that."