The late Gov. James A. Rhodes, arguably one of the most talented politicians in the history of Ohio, had a saying about elections (sprinkled with a bit of sarcasm) that should grab the attention of state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman:
“Those who come to the campaign early get the favors. Everyone else gets good government.”
Implicit in the four-term Republican governor’s homespun political philosophy is the reality that at its core, an election is about rewarding your allies and, at the very least, ignoring your enemies.
This year’s Democratic primary for governor seems to be playing out the way Rhodes envisioned such a contest.
Several of the early candidates for the Democratic nomination for governor have dropped out and are now supporting the frontrunner, Richard Cordray.
But not Schiavoni, who represents the 33rd District and has served as minority leader in the state Senate. He insists he isn’t abandoning his gubernatorial bid, despite the fact that his campaign is running on fumes.
Of the five Democratic candidates who filed finance reports for the second half of 2017, Schiavoni placed last with a meager $341,756. He had $245,251 cash on hand as of Dec. 31.
Cordray, who resigned as head of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and served as Ohio attorney general, Ohio treasurer and state representative, raised about $2 million in 57 days and had spent only $1,214 of that on his campaign by the end of 2017.
It has been said that money is the mother’s milk of politics. If true, Cordray is drinking his fill, while Schiavoni may soon be down to a few drops.
That’s a problem for someone who has low name recognition in the state.
Nonetheless, Schiavoni is undaunted by the uphill battle he faces.
“I understand it’s going to be tough,” the Mahoning Valley’s favorite son told Vindicator politics writer David Skolnick recently. “You work hard and give people a choice. I don’t see any scenario in which I get out of the election before the primary.”
He acknowledged he’s being pressured to withdraw and endorse Cordray, but he’s staying put.
“People say, ‘You might want to join the team that’s going to win, and there might be something in it for you,” Schiavoni said. “But I’m not interested in that.”
He said Cordray isn’t one of the people trying to persuade him to drop out. Indeed, he described the frontrunner as a “good guy” and pledged to support him if he wins the Democratic nomination.
But the reality is that the seats at Cordray’s table are filling fast.
Last week, former state Rep. Connie Pillich of Cincinnati dropped out of the race and threw her support to Cordray.
And it was her public statement in announcing her withdrawal that has resonated with Democratic Party insiders:
“As the GOP rallies around Mike DeWine and promises more of the same destructive policies that have put our state into the terrible situation it is in now, it is time to come together. Democrats have got to come together. We’ve got to put aside our differences, and we have to unite.”
The fact Schiavoni represents a region of the state crucial to the Democratic Party’s political fortunes in
statewide elections means the senator has bargaining power if he decides to get out and endorse Cordray.
But the clock is ticking.
Pillich isn’t the only prominent Democrat who has joined forces with Cordray. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley withdrew last month and embraced the frontrunner.
Cordray’s lieutenant governor running mate is Betty Sutton, a former congresswoman who abandoned her bid for governor.
In addition to Cordray and Schiavoni, the Democratic primary for governor also features former congressman and mayor of Cleveland Dennis Kucinich; former Ohio Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill; and, Cleveland physician Jonathan Heavey.
The Mahoning County Democratic Party central committee will meet Feb. 27 to vote on endorsements for local and statewide races, and Chairman David Betras says gubernatorial candidates have contacted him about attending the meeting at St. Luke Parish Hall.
To be sure, Schiavoni has a clear advantage due to his standing as a state senator.
But, what should he do, given all of the factors working against him?
Schiavoni should announce he’s withdrawing, throw his support to Cordray and exact a public pledge from him that the Mahoning Valley will be a top priority if the Democratic nominee is elected governor.
Schiavoni, an amateur boxer, is to be commended for entering the gubernatorial ring, but it’s time he threw in the towel.
He gave it his best shot.