Though none of them has officially declared he’s running for office, the likely 2014 Democratic statewide executive-branch ticket came together as a team to campaign in Youngstown, one of the state’s most Democratic cities.
“This is the first time we’re at a meet-and-greet as a group,” said former Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper, the likely Democratic candidate for attorney general, at Tuesday’s event at the Lemon Grove restaurant in the city’s downtown. “It doesn’t take you long to figure out how strong the area is for Democratic votes. It’s a key part of the state to know well. People in the Mahoning Valley are very enthusiastic and organized.”
Pepper, who unsuccessfully ran in 2010 for state auditor, said he expects the potential candidates at the event to make official announcements in the next couple of months.
“Everyone here is very serious about the positions,” he said. “Two candidates came all the way from the Cincinnati area for this event.”
Pepper was referring to himself and state Rep. Connie Pillich of Montgomery, near Cincinnati, who is expected to run for state treasurer.
About 150 people attended the event.
The potential candidates — Pepper, Pillich, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald for governor, state Sen. Nina Turner of Cleveland for secretary of state, and state Rep. John Carney of Columbus for auditor — spoke at the state party’s annual dinner March 15 in Columbus. But the potential candidates said this was the first time they’ve been together for a county event.
“The Valley is very important; it’s a strong Democratic base,” Turner said. “I campaigned for the president [Barack Obama] and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, and I got a chance to visit here often. It’s like a second home to me. Everyone is [now] focused on what it takes for Democrats to win in 2014. We’re showing unity, we’re focused and we have our eyes on the prize.”
The five executive-branch seats up for election in 2014 are held by Republicans, and all are running for another term next year.
FitzGerald and the other candidates credited Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras for bringing them together and for the size of the crowd at an event this early in the campaign season.
“It’s important for us to get united together as soon as possible,” FitzGerald said. “We’re facing a well-funded Republican Party.”
FitzGerald has created an exploratory committee that permits him to raise money for a gubernatorial bid. He said he’ll have an announcement on his candidacy “before the snow is gone.” Noticing nearly all the snow is gone, he then said he’d make an announcement “soon.”
Betras said the turnout and the fact that all of the potential statewide candidates attended Tuesday’s event shows the strength of the county’s Democratic voters.