Are Dems headed for 1994 crash?

It’s the kind of story that causes political operatives to have sleepless nights, party leaders to play the low-expectation game, and the candidate to hope there’s enough time to turn things around.

Last week, the Columbus Dispatch published a story about the city of Streetsboro, one of Ohio’s new political bellwethers, with the following paragraph that must have made Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic nominee for governor, squirm:

“But an afternoon in this community about 40 minutes southeast of FitzGerald’s office in downtown Cleveland found that, at best, many [residents] had barely heard of the Cuyahoga County executive, much less plan to vote for him ….”

FitzGerald, who is challenging Republican Gov. John Kasich in the November general election, has had a persistent problem since he began his quest last year: Too many Ohioans don’t know who he is.

Huge advantage

Thus the question: Can the challenger and the Ohio Democratic Party overcome Kasich’s huge advantage of incumbency and money?

Polls continue to show the governor, who is completing his first four-year term, with a comfortable lead.

Four years ago, Kasich defeated Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland by a narrow margin, but the GOP swept every statewide race.

President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), was responsible for the Democrats getting a political drubbing around the country.

Last week, a major poll was released that placed Obama as the most unpopular president since World War II, and there’s nothing to suggest that the public’s attitude will change between now and Nov. 4.

That isn’t good news for the Ohio Democratic Party.

In January 2011, one of the Mahoning Valley’s most prominent Democrats, Harry Meshel, told state party Chairman Chris Redfern to “Get lost” because of the beating suffered by the Democratic candidates.

Meshel, former president of the Ohio Senate and now a member of the Youngstown State University Board of Trustees, had a personal reason for kicking Redfern when he was down.

In 1994, Meshel was chairman of the state Democratic Party when the nominee for governor, Rob Burch, was politically destroyed by then-Gov. George V. Voinovich, a Republican.

Voinovich received 72 percent of the 3.3 million votes cast, while Burch managed a meager 25 percent. There also was an independent candidate in the race.

Democrats around the state and nationally were in shock, and Meshel was blamed — by Redfern.

The then-Ottawa County commissioner called the chairman’s office with a message that was delivered to Meshel on a “While You Were Out” slip. It read: “Ask you that you resign.”

The Valley’s elder political statesman is still holding a grudge against Redfern, even though he may not admit it publicly.

However, should the statewide Democratic ticket led by FitzGerald go down in flames, it’s a sure bet that Meshel will be the first to demand Redfern’s head on a platter.

Unless there’s a reversal of fortunes, Gov. Kasich and most of the Republican statewide officeholders will win re-election.

Riding high

In 2011, Democrats were riding high after they, along with their labor union allies, killed Kasich’s collective bargaining reform law. The governor and the GOP-controlled General Assembly rammed through the reform bill that was aimed at state public employees.

The law stripped state union workers of bargaining rights that had been on the books for decades. Democratic Party leaders and union bigwigs still licking their wounds from the 2010 election, pounced. A petition drive to place the collective bargaining reform law on the general election ballot garnered 1.3 million signatures.

In the election, more than 60 percent voted for repeal. And Democrats believed they had found an issue that would resonate in this year’s election. They were wrong.

There had been talk about Republicans putting a right-to-work constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot, but the governor nipped that idea in the bud.

Thus today, Democrats are desperately looking for an issue to energize the base — as the clock keeps ticking.

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