Growing up around car racing and farming, Jean Schmidt applied the mental toughness and endurance she gained from her early life to the way she approached politics. An outspoken pro-life crusader who survived several competitive electoral contests during her House career, Schmidt summed up her blue-collar, work-first ethos for reporters after winning her first election in 2005: “I’d rather smell ethanol than Chanel No. 5.”1
Jeannette “Jean” Hoffman was born on November 29, 1951, in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is one of four children, along with a twin sister and two older brothers, born to Gus and Jeannette Hoffman. Jean spent her early years on the family farm in Clermont County where her father operated a savings and loan and also owned a sprint car racing team. While her family had a history supporting the Democratic Party, Jean identified strongly with Republican arguments made by candidate Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential debates.2 She earned a B.A. in political science from the University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1974.
During college, Jean worked in her father’s savings and loan company, where she was employed as a branch manager until 1978. She also worked as a fitness instructor and a teacher. Jean married Peter Schmidt, a financial adviser with whom she has one daughter, Emilie. Schmidt began running daily after giving birth, having read that it helps mothers fighting postpartum depression. She ran her first marathon in 1990 and, over the course of the next two decades, she completed a total of 97 marathons.3
Schmidt won election to a trusteeship in Miami, Ohio, in 1989, finishing first of three candidates for two seats. During the next 11 years, she administered a budget of $17 million and helped engineer the building of a new park. In 2000, Schmidt easily won election as a Republican to the Ohio state house of representatives from Miami township. During her tenure as a state representative she focused on passing a law that would make it easier for judges to sentence murderers who plead guilty to life without parole. Schmidt decided not to seek re-election to a third term in 2004 in favor of running for a vacant state senate seat. After a grueling primary battle with a fellow state representative, she lost by only 22 votes.4 Her political career on hiatus, she became president of the anti-abortion Cincinnati-area Right to Life group. In accordance with the group’s statements, Schmidt actively opposed both the death penalty and abortion in all cases.5
In March 2005, President George W. Bush chose Ohio Representative Rob Portman as his U.S. Trade Representative. Jean Schmidt took her daughter’s advice and announced her candidacy for the position.6 Several other prominent Ohio Republicans stepped up to replace the outgoing Representative including former Congressman Bob McEwen and Pat DeWine, son of Ohio Senator Mike DeWine. DeWine started as the frontrunner, but his support quickly eroded. Schmidt repeatedly stressed her lengthy marriage alongside her political experience and staunch socially conservative values. Ultimately, Schmidt won the primary race with 31 percent of the vote.7 She then faced Iraq War veteran and former Marine Corps Major Paul Hackett III in the special election. In a heavily conservative district that voted 64 percent in favor of President Bush in 2004, the election was expected to be a formality. However, after much national attention from both parties, Schmidt narrowly defeated Hackett, 52 to 48 percent in the August 2, 2005, special election. Both parties touted the election results as foreshadowing the 2006 midterm election.8
After Schmidt was sworn in to the 109th Congress (2005–2007), on September 6, 2005, she received assignments on the Agriculture, Government Reform, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees. Schmidt remained on the Agriculture and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committees throughout her tenure as a Representative, but left the Committee on Government Reform after her initial term ended. She was later appointed to the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the 112th Congress (2011–2013). Her legislative agenda and voting record closely resembled her predecessor Rob Portman’s, though Schmidt also emphasized anti-abortion legislation. She captivated the national press during her truncated first term during a controversial speech on the House Floor defending the Iraq War. Schmidt swiftly asked that her words be withdrawn from the Congressional Record, but reaction was loud and polarized. Ultimately, Schmidt embraced the characterization of toughness her supporters thrust upon her, “You have to be in this environment. Politics is not for the faint of heart.”9 She utilized her elevated profile to further pro-life bills.
Schmidt’s election to serve for a full term in the 110th Congress (2007–2009) proved even closer than her special election campaign. She survived a close primary rematch with former Congressman McEwen before eking out a one-point win in the general election against Democrat Victoria Wulsin.10 Between her fervent support of President Bush's tax cuts and her efforts to expose foreign lobbyists to public scrutiny, the Cincinnati Enquirer labeled her a “working congresswoman.”11 During her second and third terms, she also garnered acclaim for her work with small businesses. Schmidt faced Wulsin again in the 2008 general election. Local businessman David Krikorian also entered the race as an Independent. Local newspapers credit his involvement with siphoning votes away from Wulsin, who started with a fundraising advantage during a presidential election year. Though the 2008 election favored Democrats, Schmidt beat Wulsin by a margin of 7 percent.12
While in the minority, Schmidt primarily focused on constituency work, pro-life causes, and opposing Democrats’ proposal for comprehensive health care reform. She voted against the Affordable Care Act which passed the House in the spring of 2010, stating during debate that “perhaps worst of all, it allows federal funding for abortions for the first time in 34 years.”13 In the 2010 midterm elections, which were highly favorable to Republicans, she defeated Democratic challenger Surya Yalamanchili by a margin of 23 percent.14 Returned to the majority in the 112th Congress, Republicans voted to repeal the new health care law 35 times. Schmidt devoted much of her time to that effort. Following the Supreme Court ruling to uphold the law, she insisted, “That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”15
In 2012, Schmidt again faced a strong primary challenger: Brad Wenstrup, a small business owner and former combat surgeon. He specifically singled out her votes to raise the debt ceiling and had the backing of a powerful anti-incumbent political action committee which espoused no specific partisan viewpoint but operated solely to “make the electoral system competitive.”16 Wenstrup did not run a single television ad, and Schmidt spent the day before the primary attending a House Republican Conference meeting and casting votes on the House Floor.17 Wenstrup prevailed with 49 to 43 percent of the vote and went on to win the general election. Schmidt completed her term on January 3, 2013, and returned to her district.
View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
[ Top ]