As Democrats from across the state gathered in Columbus for their annual Legacy Dinner, they were still absorbing the news that Youngstown area Congressman Tim Ryan will not be running for governor next year.
Among the disappointed was state Rep. Bob Hagan.
“I think he could have won," he said. "I think it’s going to be a tough campaign – we needed someone that can shout and can scream and get people up on their feet and I think he can do that. On the other hand, I’m disappointed because, in a selfish way, I was going to run for Congress myself in his seat.”
Dave Betras is the Mahoning County Democratic Party Chair and had been a big Ryan backer.
He said, “I’m glad he’s staying where he is, and he’s young – he’s 39 years old. So you’ll see him on the statewide ticket someday.”
Betras said he'll publicly support Ed FitzGerald and do everything he can to make sure FitzGerald wins.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald is so far the only Democrat to form an exploratory committee.
Sandra Wise of Fremont says she’s still holding out hope that former Attorney General Richard Cordray might come into the race, even though he’s nominated to head up the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“I am, I’ve always been a fan of his," she said. "Truly. I do not know FitzGerald that well, but I’m sure he’s going to gravitate toward Sandusky County and show us what he’s all about.”
And there’s also northeast Ohio’s Betty Sutton, who lost a bid to keep her seat in Congress in November.
“I am in the final stages of my decision process and I’ll be making an announcement soon,” said Sutton.
Sutton wouldn’t say whether Ryan’s choice not to run plays a role in her decision. Ryan himself wasn’t at the dinner, though he had been scheduled to speak. That left FitzGerald, the last speaker on the program, as the sole headliner. After the speech, FitzGerald admitted that Ryan’s decision does make his way toward the Democratic nomination for governor easier.
“I’ve been seriously exploring it, and the more people that decline the race, probably the better for me,” said FitzGerald.
And the Republicans have been waiting for him.
The Ohio GOP launched a website that seeks to connect FitzGerald to the sprawling Cuyahoga County corruption scandal which ensnared more than 50 Democrats.
Matthew Henderson with the Ohio Republican Party said, “We believe Ohioans have a right to know exactly what went on in as it’s so called Public Official 14, Mr. FitzGerald’s shadowy past. And we believe folks should know about that. It’s very early in the game for him to be keeping secrets.”
FitzGerald says his background contradicts what the Republicans are claiming and so does the U.S. Attorney.
“Look, they are very worried and they are very desperate," he said. "But to try to claim that a former prosecutor, former FBI agent is somehow part of some nefarious scheme is pretty lame.”
FitzGerald says he doesn’t yet have a date for a formal announcement but says “the sooner the better."
Ohio Democratic Party Chair Chris Redfern estimates both major party candidates will spend $55 million, so he’s hoping for a race without a primary – but says he did not ask Ryan to step aside.