Looks like Ohio Dems will do without Cordray in 2014

Jul 21, 2013

Ohio Democrats who were hoping that Richard Cordray, the former state treasurer and attorney general, might rush in on a white horse, with a hardy “Heigh Ho Silver”  and save the day in the 2014 Ohio governor’s race, may as well move along.

There’s nothing to see here.

This week, the Republicans in the U.S. Senate ended their long effort to block the re-nomination of Cordray as President Obama’s director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They confirmed Cordray and other Obama nominees, thus averting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from implementing what was called the “nuclear option.”

The nuclear option that Reid used as a sword hanging over the heads of minority Republicans in the Senate would have changed the Senate rules to allow presidential nominees to move forward with a simple majority of the 100-member Senate, instead of the traditional rule of 60 votes to end filibusters.

It took an extremely rare closed door meeting of all 100 senators Monday night to do it, but the logjam was broken; and Cordray was confirmed.

Cordray’s re-nomination stuck in the craws of GOP senators because President Obama appointed him to the job in August 2011 while the Senate was in recess. Recess appointments are always controversial; and have been the subject of a court battle.

But Harry Reid kept his nuclear device in his hip pocket; and Cordray is safe and sound running a bureau that was created to protect consumers from bad banking practices after the financial collapse of 2008.

There was some speculation that if Cordray’s re-nomination was left in legislative and legal limbo, he would come back home and take a shot at the governor’s office in 2014, when Republican incumbent John Kasich is up for re-election.

There is an announced Democratic candidate for governor, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald; and the Ohio Democratic Party machinery seems to have rallied around him.

Still, there are Ohio Democrats who believe that Cordray would be a stronger candidate, mainly because he has one thing that FitzGerald does not – experience running in statewide elections.

The fact is, though, that Kasich appears to be riding pretty high in the saddle right now.

A poll of Ohio voters by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in June had Kasich’s job approval rating at 54 percent – by far his highest mark since he took office in Jan. 2011.

That may be because of the perception that Ohio’s economy is improving; and as the late governor Jim Rhodes used to say, elections in Ohio are about three things – “jobs, jobs, and jobs.”

Friday, FitzGerald gamely tried to make the case that an improved economy in Ohio is an illusion, citing a U.S. Labor Department report last week showing that Ohio lost the second highest number of jobs of any state in the nation in June – about 12,500; and that Ohio ranked 43rd in job creation over the past year.

“So where is the ‘Ohio miracle” that Governor Kasich was talking about just a few days ago?,’’ FitzGerald asked.

That same Quinnipiac poll showed that, as of late June, Kasich had a 14 percentage point lead over FitzGerald – 47 percent to 33 percent.

That’s good news for Kasich, but a year and a half before the 2010 gubernatorial election, Democratic governor Ted Strickland held a similar lead over Kasich.

Lots can happen between now and November 2014.

The 54-year-old Cordray has the resume – he’s served in the Ohio House, as Ohio’s solicitor general, Franklin County treasurer, state treasurer and Ohio Attorney general, ousted from that office by Mike DeWine in the 2010 GOP tsunami where the Republicans swept all statewide offices.

When supporters want to show how smart Cordray is, they invariably point to the fact that, as a young lawyer in 1987, he was an undefeated five-time champion on the game show Jeopardy, where he won $45,303. He used the money to pay off his law school debt and bought a used car.

Smart guy, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into votes.

The Quinnipiac Poll showed Cordray doing marginally better than FitzGerald in a head-to-head match-up with Kasich. He trailed the incumbent by 11 percentage points – 47 percent for Kasich, 36 percent for Cordray. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.

And, despite having held two statewide offices, he is only marginally better known than FitzGerald. The poll showed 76 percent of those polled didn’t know enough about FitzGerald to form an opinion about him. For Cordray, the number dropped to 66 percent – two out of three didn’t know enough about him to say if they like him or not.

Money can fix those problems; and Cordray has a pretty good record of raising it.

But the Republicans in the Senate backed off; and Cordray has a job.

The election is nearly 16 months away; and, although it sounds ludicrous to say so, it really is getting late in the game to be jumping into a governor’s race.

Cordray for governor in 2018. We suppose that’s up to Ed FitzGerald.