COLUMBUS -- Ted Strickland is out. Sherrod Brown could be in. The race for the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial nomination has just gotten a little bit more interesting.
Strickland, the sixth-term congressman from Lisbon, recently announced he would seek re-election to his congressional seat next year and not seek the Democratic nomination for governor. And in doing so, Strickland all but endorsed fellow Democratic U.S. Rep Sherrod Brown of Lorain, who has indicated he is still weighing his political options.
The possibility of Brown entering the race brings another veteran politician to Democrats exploring a gubernatorial bid including Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman, state Sen. Eric Fingerhut of Cleveland and Akron Mayor Donald L. Plusquellic. Also testing the waters on the Democratic side is controversial TV shock jock Jerry Springer, who has recently started hosting an issues-oriented radio show in Cincinnati to build his "serious-on-the-issues" credentials.
The next several months should separate the contenders from the pretenders. Potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates will soon have to get a statewide political organization up and running and campaign fundraising underway. The stakes for Ohio Democrats could be high. It's been 16 years since a Democrat occupied the governor's office and whoever becomes the Democratic candidate will likely face a proven, battle-tested Republican statewide officeholder. Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, State Auditor Betty D. Montgomery and State Attorney General Jim Petro have all announced plans to seek the GOP nomination for governor.
Still, many Ohio Democrats are optimistic and say GOP domination of state government for several years and a struggling Ohio economy could help Democrats running statewide next year, especially for governor. "I believe a Democrat will be elected governor in '06," Strickland said. "I just think there's going to be unrest." Strickland said he believes he can make more of a difference dealing with federal issues that will continue to confront the country instead of running for governor. Strickland said for the last year he consulted virtually every political official in the party before making his decision.
Brown, in his seventh two-year term in Congress, is a former Ohio secretary of state and a former state lawmaker. He said he'll make up his mind in the next few months. "The decision is where I can have more impact," said Brown. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Dennis L. White says all the Democratic candidates considering running for governor are good ones and that he's encouraging all comers so far.
A wild card in all of this could be Springer, the controversial host of the self-titled "The Jerry Springer Show." Springer, who has said he's considering running for governor, has changed his legal residence to Ohio and has crisscrossed the state to appear at Democratic Party functions and raise money for Democratic political candidates. Springer's television contract expires this spring and Springer associates say he hasn't yet decided whether he'll renew it. But Springer has said he would not attempt to do the television show while at the same time running for public office, meaning a decision on his political future is likely still a few months away. Because of the controversial television show, some Democrats fear a Springer candidacy could be disastrous for a party largely out of power.
Republicans control every statewide non-judicial office; commanding majority in both the Ohio House and the Ohio Senate and a 6-1 majority on the Ohio Supreme Court. Mike Ford, Springer's political adviser, says he believes Democrats have to find new ways to reach out to potential voters and that Springer connects with people.
"Springer to some people is a risk. To me, you gotta take a risk," Ford said.
X Jeff Ortega is The Vindicator's correspondent in Columbus.