If Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras hopes to light a fire under his membership for the general election – and avoid a repeat of the political disaster of 2016 – he will need a major spark.
Betras believes he has found that spark in the persona of a hot-shot lawyer from New York City and in his verbal attacks on Republican President Donald J. Trump.
He is wrong on both counts.
What the Aug. 6 Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman’s Dinner needs is an attraction so brazen, it will cause the tassels on Betras’ Cole Haan shoes to spin in opposite directions.
Imagine the reaction when the party chairman addresses the gathering of Democrats with the words, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my distinct pleasure to introduce Stephanie Clifford, intimately known to Donald J. Trump as Stormy Daniels.”
He could then introduce Michael Avenatti, the nationally renowned lawyer from New York who is representing porn star Stormy in her lawsuits stemming from an alleged affair in 2006 with then-billionaire real estate developer Trump.
But having Avenatti at the dinner without Stormy would be just another run-of-the-mill political story.
It wouldn’t matter if Betras delivered one of his stem-winder speeches that were so much a part of the 2016 presidential election in Mahoning County.
Indeed, he provided a preview of this fall’s campaign after his re-election in May as party chairman. He was unopposed.
“As I begin my third term as your chair, the first pathological liar ever elected to the presidency occupies the Oval Office,” he said. “The contrast between [Trump and former Democratic President Barack Obama] and the two eras could not be starker. Instead of hope, Trump traffics in fear. Instead of bringing us together, his divisive, racist rhetoric is tearing us apart.”
It will be recalled that Betras took the same hard-line position against Trump in 2016, and while he attracted some national attention with his verbal broadsides, he was unable to stop a significant number of Democrats in Mahoning County from voting for the reality TV personality.
Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign resonated in the Mahoning Valley, especially among white, male blue-collar workers who blame their economic travails on unfair trade practices, illegal immigration from Mexico and other South American countries, the demise of Big Steel in the region and the shrinking of General Motors’ Lordstown assembly plant.
The Democratic turncoats didn’t care that Trump’s speeches were littered with racist, chauvinistic, homophobic references, and that he had no qualms about making fun of a newspaper reporter with physical disabilities,.
They also chose to ignore the fact that the real-estate developer born with a silver shovel in his mouth boasted about kissing women uninvited and grabbing them by their lady parts.
They didn’t even care when he publicly berated veteran U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, for having been captured during the Vietnam War. McCain, a U.S. Navy pilot, was shot down during a bombing mission over Hanoi in October 1967.
He was seriously injured, imprisoned by the North Vietnamese and tortured regularly. Nonetheless, McCain refused an out-of-sequence early repatriation offer.
The wounds he suffered during the war left him with lifelong physical disabilities.
Yet Trump insisted during the campaign that McCain was not a hero because he was a POW.
However, for voters in the predominantly Democratic Mahoning Valley, the Republican nominee’s promise to reopen the steel mills along the Mahoning River, to revive the coal industry and force the Big Three American automakers to close plants abroad and boost domestic production trumped his character flaws.
The self-aggrandizing billionaire, who had never run for office before 2016, defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in predominantly Democratic Trumbull County. And, he did so well in Mahoning County that it deprived Clinton of the margin of victory she needed to carry Ohio.
Since that election, Trump has succeeded in holding on to his supporters, including Democrats who switched, by pounding away at the one issue he believes is a winner for Republicans: immigration.
While the president insists that he wants to end illegal immigration, it’s clear that he frowns upon immigrants from non-European countries.
The political question that looms this year in the Mahoning Valley is simply this: Will the Trump Democrats return to the fold in order to vote for the statewide ticket led by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and the party nominee for governor, Richard Cordray?
Trump’s appeal to the Democratic voters in the Valley had little to do with his running as a Republican and everything to do with the populist issues he embraces.
While it’s anyone’s guess what the Trumpsters will do, here’s a safe bet: A goodly number will attend Chairman Betras’ Aug. 6 dinner if Stormy Daniels is the star attraction.
After all, there’s a huge curiosity factor, not only given the salacious details surrounding her alleged affair with Trump, but her arrest last week in Columbus.
She was performing in a strip club when three undercover detectives arrested her, alleging that she touched them during her act. The charges were subsequently dismissed.
In announcing Atty. Avenatti’s appearance at the Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman’s Dinner, Betras said, “It’s a big get for me. As an attorney, I’m very excited to have one of the top lawyers in the country come to speak at our dinner.”
A bigger get would be Stormy.
Imagine if she pulled a Marilyn Monroe (the actress’ 1962 steamy rendition of “Happy Birthday Mr. President” to John Kennedy remains one for the ages) and saluted Betras with a special performance.
Now that would grab national headlines.