Art is not usually at the forefront of political conversation, but Professor of Art Claudia Esslinger, her husband Jack and Professor of Art Marcella Hackbardt are seeking to change that.
The trio held an art-themed reception for Ken Harbaugh, the Democratic candidate for Ohio’s 7th Congressional district election at the Esslingers’ home in Gambier on Sept. 24. A group of 40 faculty, students and Mount Vernon residents gathered to hear Harbaugh speak about the arts and his campaign to win Ohio’s 7th district in the 2018 midterm elections against incumbent Bob Gibbs (R).
A slideshow ran throughout the reception featuring artwork from the Gambier community, as well as drawings from Ken Harbaugh’s daughter, Lizzie, who he said has difficulty communicating vocally. During his speech Harbaugh shared a story about his daughter’s interest in art and song.
Professor Esslinger praised Harbaugh for appreciating the value of art in ordinary life in his speech. “There’s power in imagery and I think we are some of the people who hold accountable our government by trying to speak truth to power,” Esslinger said.
Harbaugh, a Navy veteran, was motivated to run for Congress after Trump won the 2016 presidential election. “I told my kids that this was still the country their dad has served, it’s still a country worth fighting for and we’re going to keep fighting for it,” he said.
Harbaugh grew up in Lorain County, Ohio. He attributes his leadership and problem-solving skills to his service in the military. As a Navy pilot, Harbaugh was involved in missions in the Middle East and North Korea, where he said he was challenged to work with other servicemen, regardless of their beliefs or political affiliation.
After his opening remarks, Harbaugh had a Q&A session. Audience members asked about healthcare, the opioid crisis and student debt, among other issues.
President of Kenyon Democrats Jessie Gorovitz ’19 believed Harbaugh did a good job during the Q&A session. According to Gorovitz, some audience members were upset that Harbaugh did not mention the statement “Black Lives Matter” when he answered a question regarding race issues in America.
“He probably does believe in [the Black Lives Matter movement], but running a campaign is challenging, and I think it’s good for candidates to not say things and do things on the campaign trail that they won’t necessarily be able to uphold once they’re elected,” Gorovitz said.
Members of the audience expressed concern about Harbaugh’s ability to sway right-wing voters. Knox County is a Republican stronghold; in 2016, Bob Gibbs won Ohio’s 7th district with 64 percent of the vote. The last Democrat to hold the seat was Arthur W. Aleshire in 1939.
Harbaugh believes fear played a major role in the 2016 election. “It was a protest vote,” he said. “It wasn’t a sign of a sudden demographic shift or sudden political shift. I think it was a cry for help and a cry out in anger.”
Harbaugh and his Kenyon supporters are engaging with the College’s Mount Vernon neighbors by canvassing. Volunteers, including some members of Kenyon Democrats, have knocked on over 2,000 doors. With roughly 400 days until the midterm election in November 2018, Harbaugh is optimistic that he represents a strong choice for the district.