Politics
12:00 am
Sun August 10, 2014

Can a bruised and battered Ed FitzGerald get back on course?

Is the ship sinking for Ohio Democrats in the governor’s race?

Democratic Party leaders insist that it is not, but there is no question that the ship has been taking on water at an alarming rate in the past few weeks.

And the fear among some Democrats is that if their candidate for governor, Ed FitzGerald, sinks under the waves, he might take the Democrats’ down-ticket statewide candidates – for attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, and auditor – down to the bottom of the deep blue sea with him.

The news for FitzGerald, has been nothing but bad in the past few weeks.

First, there was an independent poll by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute on July 30 that showed the Republican incumbent with a 12 percentage point lead over FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive. Worse yet, 63 percent of the Ohio voters polled said they don’t know enough about FitzGerald to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him. Not good for a candidate who has been campaigning around the state for a year-and-a-half.

Then came the latest round of campaign finance reports. They showed that Kasich has raised $16.4 million for his re-election campaign while FitzGerald has raised but $4.4 million. To get the poll numbers to move in your direction, you must have money, which generates more money. It’s a sticky wicket for the FitzGerald campaign.

Then, last week, the Cleveland Plain Dealer broke a story saying that in Oct. 2012, FitzGerald was found by police parked alone in a car with a woman who was not his wife at 4:30 in the morning in a Cleveland suburb. The woman was a member of a delegation from Ireland visiting Cleveland; and, according to FitzGerald, had gotten separated from the rest of the group and he was taking her back to her hotel. No charges were filed. FitzGerald insisted that there was nothing improper going on in that car. OK, maybe not a big deal.

But then it came out that from 2002 to 2012, FitzGerald either had no driver’s license or had a series of temporary permits. For most of that time, he was a council member and mayor of the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, before being elected Cuyahoga County executive in 2010.

FitzGerald’s campaign has been saying that there is no excuse for the candidate not having a permanent driver’s license and that he just kept putting it off.

Kasich and his campaign have said nothing about the parking lot incident or what is being referred to as “Licensegate.” They don’t have to. The news media around the state has kept the stories percolating away.

Well, we suppose that is one way to drive up FitzGerald’s name recognition. But probably not in the way he would like.

“This is not good,’’ Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke said of FitzGerald’s recent troubles. “As far as the issue of the woman in the car is concerned, I thought his response was reasonable and made sense. No big deal.”

But, Burke said, “the stupid thing with the driver’s license may hurt him worse. It just makes no sense.”

Burke, though, is not convinced that FitzGerald’s candidacy is on life support or that he is going to drag down the rest of the Democratic statewide ticket.

“It certainly doesn’t help, but I don’t think it is the end of the world,’’ Burke said. “We have outstanding candidates below the governor’s race; and they are going to run their own races on their own issues.”

Mark Weaver, a long-time Republican political consultant in Ohio (and one who is not working on the governor’s race this year) said he believes FitzGerald’s candidacy is seriously damaged and that he could drag down the Democratic statewide ticket with him.

“Turning around a political campaign is like turning around a big ocean liner in the middle of the sea,’’ Weaver said. “No matter how hard you turn the wheel, if there’s not enough motion driving you, it won’t turn around.”

“It is hard to see how (FitzGerald) could turn this around,’’ Weaver said. “He could be the Democrats’ new Rob Burch.”

Rob Burch, for those who don’t remember – and it’s highly like that many don’t – was a Democratic state senator from eastern Ohio who ran against a very popular Republican governor, George Voinovich, in 1994. He ended up with a measly 25 percent of the vote.

Nobody is expecting it to be quite that bad, even if FitzGerald loses.

Chris Redfern, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, insists that the news stories that have dogged FitzGerald in recent days are not fatal to his campaign.

FitzGerald, he said, “is getting back on track.”

The real story of this campaign, according to Redfern, is not FitzGerald being alone in a car with a woman or not having a driver’s license. It is, he said, about the “real differences between him and John Kasich.”

“We have to get our message out that Ed FitzGerald cares about the working families of this state while Kasich cares about the wealthy few,’’ Redfern said.

The election is 86 days from now. Whether or not that is enough time for FitzGerald to right the ship remains to be seen. It is, it seems, a daunting task.