Ryan, Schiavoni among long, long list of potential Democratic candidates for governor in 2018

On the side

I’ll be on vacation so there won’t be a column next week.

Harry Turner says he plans to run in the Democratic primary in May against Youngstown Mayor John A. McNally.

Turner said he is angry that the city gives money to for-profit businesses for development, pointing to the Stambaugh Building hotel project as the latest example. Turner, who unsuccessfully ran in 2015 as an independent for the 5th Ward council seat, calls the decision “incomprehensible, irresponsible behavior that I intend to put an end to if voted in as mayor.”

There is no shortage of potential 2018 Democratic candidates for governor, but some already seem more serious about it than others.

That doesn’t mean the most serious candidates have the best chance of winning the gubernatorial seat.

It’s still early in the process. But with the uphill climb Democrats have to even be competitive in the 2018 governor’s race, the sooner a top-flight candidate steps forward the better it will be for the party.

The best candidates Democrats have to offer at this point are Richard Cordray, a former attorney general and treasurer who currently runs the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th.

However, it’s questionable if either is going to run.

Ryan hasn’t given any indication that he’s serious about seeking the post, and in the past has expressed interest in governor and U.S. senator and then did not run. He pulled the trigger earlier this month on running for House minority leader but failed to garner one-third of the vote.

When asked about Ryan’s decision on a potential gubernatorial run, Michael Zetts, his spokesman, said the congressman “is spending time with his family [during the holiday season] and he’s not thinking about that at all. I don’t know when or if a decision like that will be made.”

Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras, a close Ryan political adviser, said, “I don’t think he’s made up his mind. He’s got a young child and it’s Christmas so he’s focused on that. He’s weighing it, but he hasn’t made his mind up.”

Cordray’s job forbids him from discussing politics, but some of his closest political allies are talking him up for governor.

Cordray is among the smartest people I’ve met in politics. But as a few top Democrats in the state told me, he’s kind of dull. In Cordray’s defense, Bob Taft [twice] and Ted Strickland [once] were elected governor and neither of them has an electric personality.

Despite being out of politics since he lost re-election in 2010 as attorney general to Republican Mike DeWine – the frontrunner among GOP candidates for governor in 2018 – Cordray has good name recognition, knows government and public policy, has a dedicated group of loyalists ready to work for him and has experience running statewide and raising money.

Democrats who are talking about running for governor include Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd; ex-state Rep. Connie Pillich, the 2014 failed state treasurer candidate; Ohio Supreme Court Justice William M. O’Neill; and Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune.

Pillich and O’Neill have run statewide. Pillich looked like she had a good shot two years ago of beating Treasurer Josh Mandel, but obviously didn’t in what turned out to be a disastrous year for Democrats in Ohio. Amazingly, her 13.2 point defeat was by far as close as any Democrat running for a statewide executive office spot in 2014 got to winning.

O’Neill was elected in 2012 after losing Supreme Court races in 2004 and 2008 as well as congressional bids in the 14th District in 2008 and 2010.

Honestly, O’Neill’s win in 2012 looked like a fluke with people voting for a guy with a comfortable last name, particularly because the justice spent a few hundred dollars on his campaign and had lost so many times before.

Schiavoni would be making a leap – perhaps too big of one – from representing Mahoning and Columbiana counties in the Ohio Senate to running statewide.

Betras said he’d back Ryan or Schiavoni if either ran for governor because “he’s a Valley guy, and I support Valley candidates. If anyone else ran, I’d have to evaluate it.”

Schiavoni would “make a great governor. His experience as Senate minority leader is valuable, and he’s right on the issues,” Betras said.

As for raising the $20 million or so needed to be competitive for governor, Betras said, “How’s anyone going to raise that kind of money? That’s always the difficult part of running.”

Among other names floating out there as possible Democratic candidates for governor are ex-U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, head of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., meaning – like Cordray – she’s got a federal post that doesn’t permit her to campaign yet as well as Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley; ex-state Sen. Nina Turner, the failed 2014 secretary of state candidate; and ex-Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, who heads the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

One thing is for sure: Ohio Democrats don’t want a repeat of 2014 in which then-Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald ran an awful campaign for governor. The party did a terrible job vetting FitzGerald, who was found to have driven for years without a valid driver’s license and ended up raising under $5 million.

FitzGerald’s first choice for lieutenant governor was then-state Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati, who between himself, his wife and his businesses owed more than $800,000 in delinquent taxes. The party didn’t need to vet Kearney as his tax issues were well known, but its officials failed to stop FitzGerald from selecting him and then waited for the whole thing to blow up in everyone’s faces before Kearney bowed out.

Not wanting to make those same mistakes, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said he is establishing a committee to vet potential candidates for statewide races for 2018.

“The clearest feedback I received as I became party chair was that this party must vet its candidates better,” said Pepper, who unsuccessfully ran two years ago for attorney general. “I agree. So as people come forward to run statewide, this process will ensure that our candidates have the utmost integrity, and also that they are prepared to run a successful statewide campaign and effectively lead the state once they get there.”

Despite the longstanding struggles of Democrats to win statewide and admitting that the 2016 message “was not an effective one for Ohio,” Pepper is optimistic about 2018.

“Like 1970, 1982 and 2006, history suggests that 2018 could become a great year for Democrats statewide, especially given the wrong direction Ohio is going in when it comes to jobs, wages and schools,” he said. “With a properly vetted and strong candidate to run alongside Sherrod Brown [for re-election to the U.S. Senate], we are optimistic about our chances as long as we don’t make the mistakes of the past.”

Betras said he enthusiastically endorses the vetting process and wants to be on the committee.

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