When Rick Neal saw the Ebola crisis unfolding in Liberia in late 2014, he knew what he had to do. After several difficult conversations with family and friends, Neal got on a flight to Africa. He spent a month volunteering with his former employer, the International Rescue Committee, to set up a 100-bed clinic in the capital city of Monrovia.

As Neal explains it, “When a crisis strikes, you ask yourself ‘what can I do?'”

The same thought process has now led Neal – a married father of 2 girls from Columbus – to run for Congress.

Neal is running to unseat U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers in Ohio’s 15th Congressional district, a gerrymandered 12-county sprawl that connects affluent Columbus suburbs to conservative Clinton County in the west, reaches south to the Chillicothe line and extends southeast as far as Vinton and Athens County. We recently caught up with Rick at an event in Columbus.

Neal is focused on three main issues, which he says are common throughout the district, regardless of its economic diversity: Good paying jobs, access to healthcare, and solutions to the opioid crisis. The issues, as he sees them, are interrelated. Incomes everywhere aren’t keeping up with inflation, the opioid crisis depends on affordable healthcare, and he’s even met local employers who can’t find workers who can pass a drug test. Steve Stivers is less focused on the district than he could be, Neal says, as a result of his choice to head up the NRCC, the GOP’s congressional fundraising arm, something that keeps him out of the district raising millions of dollars from big donors.

When Neal got in the race, he knew he faced an uphill challenge. The Cook political report rated the district as “R+7” (Meaning a Republican has a 7-point advantage in a normal election year). Trump captured 55 percent of the vote in 2016, but the margin isn’t always that large. In 2012, the district went to Romney over Obama 52-46.

Two trends offer encouragement. The Cook Political Report announced this week that Stivers was potentially vulnerable, and moved the race from “Solid Republican” to “Likely Republican.” The move is sure to put the district onto the radar of national funders looking to support Democrats in swing districts. Neal has already lined up top talent to run his campaign. Having a professional campaign organization is key, says Neal, to have a shot at winning, and he’s working to build one. Having already brought on an experienced campaign manager, finance manager and top consultants, Neal is now looking to hire a full-time Finance Director. The team estimates they need to raise $1.5 to $2 million to be competitive.

Neal sees another encouraging sign: The people in his district, particularly women, “have had it” with what’s going on in Washington. They are stepping up, getting organized, and running for office. He points to two young progressives who surprised nearly everyone in November, when they took two seats on Wilmington City Council, throwing control of the chamber into Democratic hands. They were part of a local Clinton County group of progressive activists that formed after the election, and it’s just part of a trend he’s seeing all over the district. In Hilliard, a GOP stronghold in the Franklin County suburbs, a Democrat came within 100 votes of stealing a City Council seat. Volunteers from Fairfield County were recently honored for their work organizing resistance activities by Progress Ohio.

To learn more about Rick Neal for Congress, visit his website or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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