Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic candidate for Ohio governor, has been campaigning for a year and a half in his quest to oust Republican governor John Kasich, but this past week marked a first for the FitzGerald campaign.
For the first time, Ohio voters began seeing Fitzgerald, the Cuyahoga County Executive, in a 30-second campaign TV ad.
“I’m Ed FitzGerald and I think it’s time that Ohio starts working for working people,’’ the Democratic candidate says in his ad. “Let’s start working for the middle class for a change, not just the wealthy few, because Ohio is meant for all of us.”
Not once does FitzGerald mention Kasich by name. That’s OK – Kasich has run three statewide TV ads already and none of them have mentioned FitzGerald either. Why remind voters of an opponent who is comparatively little known to the public than the sitting governor?
FitzGerald’s ad is running on broadcast television in only two TV markets in the state – Columbus and Cleveland. In the rest of the state, it is running on cable. Broadcast television is expensive; cable ads are relatively cheap.
It’s something a campaign that is at a severe financial disadvantage has to consider; and FitzGerald is certainly at a disadvantage. When campaign finance reports were filed in June, Kasich had raised $9.3 million compared to the Democrat’s $1.9 million.
In an interview with WVXU last week, FitzGerald said the money disadvantage was a factor in him lagging behind Kasich in TV ad buys.
“It’s one reason why we didn’t buy television sooner,’’ FitzGerald said. “I had people telling me to buy television in January and February. It would have been nice to be on television every day, I suppose, but you’ve got to figure out when people are paying attention and when they are listening.”
Chris Schrimpf, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said he found it curious that the FitzGerald campaign is spending money on broadcast TV in Cleveland, where FitzGerald is the county executive and the part of the state where he is the best known.
“It’s a sign of weakness that they feel like they have to spend money in Cleveland,’’ Schrimpf said.
Kasich started his TV ad campaign months ago with a biographical ad that told more about him as a person than as a politician.
FitzGerald’s ad doesn’t go into his background as an FBI agent, his time as mayor of the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, or the fact that he and his wife are raising four children.
“We made a decision that the first thing we are going to tell people was what our core belief was,’’ FitzGerald said. “And our core belief and the fundamental theme of this campaign is that Ohio’s economy is not working for the average person.
“It’s working for the privileged few and we need an Ohio and we need a state government that represents the average working family,’’ FitzGerald said.
In his interview with WVXU, FitzGerald made reference to a poll done by Public Policy Polling (PPP), a North Carolina firm, that showed him only one percentage point behind Kasich, 45 percent to 44 percent. The poll was paid for by the Ohio Democratic Party.
Republican Party leaders dismiss the poll; and it does seem out of line with the most recent independent polling. The last independent poll we know of was one in May by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute and it showed Kasich with a 15 percentage point lead.
Schrimpf said FitzGerald had paid for his own polling and hasn’t released those results.
“They do this whenever (FitzGerald) gets terrible news,’’ Schrimpf said of poll paid for by the Ohio Democratic Party.
The Ohio Republican Party pulled something of a fast one on the FitzGerald campaign the same day the Democratic candidate launched his TV ad.
The state GOP created a website called www.fitzgeraldforohio.com. It is full of a long list of news media stories that the Republicans believe put the Democratic candidate for governor in a bad light.
It also has a 30-second video linking FitzGerald to former Democratic governor Ted Strickland, whom Kasich defeated in 2010, and what the Republicans believe was Strickland’s poor record as governor.
“Ted didn’t work; Ed won’t either,’’ the video says.
It is no accident that the GOP website’s anti-FitzGerald has an address nearly identical to the official FitzGerald campaign website, www.edfitzgeraldforohio.com.
“It’s a pretty sad attempt to mislead the voters,’’ said Lauren Hitt, a spokeswoman for the FitzGerald campaign. “Otherwise, we’re not really concerned about it.”
Schrimpf said the goal is to steer as many voters as possible to their website.
“People outside Cleveland have no idea who he is,’’ Schrimpf said. “If they Google him, they will see our website.”
Schhrimpf said it is the Ohio GOP’s job to point out what they see as FitzGerald’s defects as a candidate for governor; and makes no apology for creating a website with a name almost identical to the real FitzGerald campaign website.
“We’re not going to make it an obscure website that people can’t find,’’ Schrimpf said.
FitzGerald is soldiering on; and said his campaign has shot other TV ads it hopes to run statewide as the campaign marches towards the November election.
How many Ohio voters will see those ads and how frequently they see them depends entirely on how successful FitzGerald is in closing that over four-to-one gap in campaign dollars between his campaign and the incumbent’s – or at least catching up in part.
Money, in the end, is what fuels the message in politics.