Republicans stepping down from office, President Bush’s unpopularity, and a struggling economy are combining to make Ohio fertile ground for a Democratic Party hoping to expand its majority in Congress.

Three of the 11 Ohio congressional districts that are currently represented by Republicans — in the Cincinnati, Columbus, and Canton areas — are being aggressively courted by Democrats.

“I would say that Ohio is fully in play. This could swing it to majority Democratic,” said Toledo Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur.

National Republicans initially found some hope in December in a special election in Ohio’s 5th District in which Republican Bob Latta of Bowling Green won the vacant seat.

But in the last two months, Republicans lost three other special elections in supposedly safe GOP districts in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Illinois. Now party leaders are worried.

U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, raised alarms recently about public disenchantment with the GOP “brand.” He said if the Republican Party were dog food, it would be taken off the shelves.

Ryan Rudominer, a regional spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, agreed.

“The House Republican Party is one of ‘no, veto, and status quo’ — no new ideas, veto legislation focused on the middle class, and offer nothing more than the status quo,” Rudominer said.

Nationally, Democrats hold a relatively slim 15-seat majority in the 435-member U.S. House as a result of the 2006 elections challenges to their seats.

The Democratic committee has targeted three Ohio districts for funding and strategic assistance under its “Red to Blue Program” this year. They are:

— The 1st District, containing portions of Butler and Hamilton counties in southwest Ohio. Incumbent Republican Steve Chabot, in his seventh term, won his last election with 52 percent of the vote.

His opponent, Democratic state Rep. Steve Driehaus, is well known, comes from a part of the district where Mr. Chabot runs strong, and is as conservative as a Republican in some respects, with anti-abortion and pro-gun stances.

— The 15th District, composed of part urban and suburban Franklin County and all of rural Union and Madison counties. The current representative, Republican Deborah Pryce, is retiring.

Mary Jo Kilroy, a Democratic Franklin County commissioner since 2000 and a Columbus school board member before that, lost narrowly to Pryce in 2006 and is organizing an aggressive effort for this year.

The district is as politically split as one can be: President Bush received 50.2 percent of the vote in 2004.

Republicans express confidence in state Sen. Steve Stivers, an officer in the Ohio National Guard, as a “relentless campaigner.”

— The 16th District, including Canton, Stark, and Wayne counties and parts of Ashland and Medina counties. Democrat John Boccieri and Republican Kirk Schuring are running to replace Republican incumbent Ralph Regula, who is stepping down.

Boccieri, a state senator who was a standout college baseball player and is a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, is from Youngstown and must move into the district.

His opponent and fellow state senator Schuring, notes he is a “lifelong resident” of Stark County and is a 14-year veteran of the state legislature.

Another race to watch is that in the 2nd District, where GOP Rep. Jean Schmidt now represents parts of Hamilton, Warren, and Scioto counties, and all of Clermont, Brown, Adams, and Pike counties.

Democrats recall her comment during a 2005 debate in which she appeared to call U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha, D-Pa., a Marine Corps veteran, a coward over his opposition to the Iraq war.

Republicans note that Ms. Schmidt has now won two elections — in 2005 and 2006 — and she’s facing the same person, Victoria Wulsin, a physician, who lost to her by more than 2,500 votes in 2006.

(E-mail Tom Troy at tomtroy(at)