When the fall 2014 campaign for Ohio governor rolls around, today’s controversy over a tax scofflaw being picked to be on the Democratic Party’s ticket will be a distant memory. In politics, such crises have a short shelf life.
To be sure, Ed FitzGerald, the expected Democratic nominee for governor, will be spending the next several weeks trying to explain to reporters how it was that he, an ex-FBI agent, could so royally botch the vetting of a potential lieutenant governor running mate. FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County executive, insists that he knew about Sen. Eric Kearney’s tax problems. However, his decision to part ways with Kearney — after the Columbus Dispatch and the Cincinnati Enquirer revealed some shocking details of the senator’s business tax debts — makes it clear that he either was not aware of the extent of the problem, or was blind to the political ramifications.
Now, FitzGerald, who before the controversy was trailing Republican Gov. John Kasich by single digits in a major poll, is searching for a new running mate. Some Democratic Party insiders believe that the road to the governor’s mansion leads through the black community. They point to Barack Obama’s twice carrying the Buckeye State as proof that a Democrat can win statewide even though Republicans control all the administrative offices, from governor on down. The GOP also controls the General Assembly.
It could well be that Kearney’s being black trumped his tax problems — for FitzGerald and his campaign operatives.
But there’s nothing to suggest that the black voters who turned out for Obama in his re-election bid last year will come out for a white gubernatorial candidate.
Democrats may be better off disregarding the racial blend of the ticket, and, instead, focusing on issues that Republicans claim to own, such as patriotism. A candidate’s military service is an easy sell, especially in rural parts of the state.
But, even with the strongest ticket possible, the Ohio Democratic Party has a problem that will require a risky political move.
This headline appeared recently in the Columbus Dispatch: “Poll: Obama’s approval rating at an all-time low in Ohio.”
The story, written by veteran political reporter Joe Hallett, read in part:
“President Barack Obama’s approval rating has plummeted in Ohio to the lowest point of his presidency, a harbinger of trouble in the 2014 off-year election for Democrats in Ohio and across the country.
“Only 34 percent of Ohio voters approve of Obama’s job performance while 61 percent disapprove, according to a survey released yesterday by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
“It marked the lowest score for Obama in any Quinnipiac poll nationally or in any state.”
Given that the president’s low approval rating is directly tied to the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — and the major failure of its website’s launch, the Republicans have a political gift for next year. If the Ohio Democratic Party publicly repudiates Obama, it may be able to win back Democratic voters who sat out the 2010 election for governor, thus handing victory to Republican Kasich.
Post-election analyses revealed that many Democrats were disenchanted with Obama and decided not to participate in the statewide election.
The result: Incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, a former member of Congress, lost re-election by a sliver.
But if Democrats decide to shun the president next year, there certainly will be a backlash from black voters in the heavily Democratic urban areas.
FitzGerald’s dropping the ball with regard to Kearney’s tax problems will seem like a minor glitch compared to what he faces with Obamacare.
Here’s how Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac polling institute, defined the problem in The Dispatch story:
“Clearly, much of the reason for the president’s decline in Ohio is Obamacare. Ohio voters oppose the Affordable Care Act 59 to 38 percent. Perhaps more significantly, voters say 45 to 16 percent they expect their own health care to be worse rather than better a year from now.”
And then Brown offered this observation about next year’s election:
“If voters still feel that way about their own situation come November 2014, that is likely to create a political playing field beneficial for Republicans. Voters still blame Republicans more for the government shutdown, but that issue’s salience is being dwarfed by the opposition to Obamacare.”
What are the Democrats to do?