Pepper, Kearney, Pillich: Statewide candidates?

Feb 9, 2013

Here’s a hard and fast rule of politics:

If you are a politician with some ambitions and the other political party in your state starts going after you in public, singling you out by name, you can be sure that they are worried about you as a threat to one of their own officer-holders.

It happened to three Hamilton County Democrats this week, all three of whom are potential candidates for statewide office in 2014 – former Hamilton County commissioner David Pepper, State Sen. Eric Kearney, the Democratic Senate minority leader; and State Rep. Connie Pillich of Montgomery.

After Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, released his budget plan last Monday, Ohio Democrats started howling, saying the governor was proposing new sales taxes on nearly everything from haircuts to tickets to the county fair, just to benefit his political cronies.

Ohio Republican Party chairman Bob Bennett called a press conference Thursday to blast the Democrats for their “baseless attacks” on Kasich’s budget; and the party put out a press release saying they would counter “this Democratic self-centered hysteria” with the facts.

The facts the GOP referred to are on a website called; and one of the faces pictured on the web page is that of Pillich, who says that the GOP made numerous errors about her voting record in the Ohio House.

The GOP press release also named Kearney and Pepper, saying they “incorrectly stated that the proposed budget raises taxes,” saying it reduces taxes on Ohioans by $1.4 billion.

Why single out these three Cincinnati Democrats?

Because each of them is a potential candidate for statewide office in 2014.

Back in 2000, the Ohio GOP smashed the Democrats like a bug on a windshield in the statewide elections, winning every statewide constitutional office from governor on down.

2014, Ohio Democrats hope, is the year when they make their comeback.

The Democrats have been on a mini-roll since 2010. In 2011, they were successful in a referendum to repeal Senate Bill 5, the GOP-backed legislation that would have curtailed the collective bargaining power of public employees union. Then, last fall, they delivered Ohio for Barack Obama.

And now they are plotting to take back state government in 2014 – which will be an uphill climb, given the fact that they are starting from scratch.

They need all the credible statewide candidates they can get.

That’s where our Cincinnati Democratic trio comes in. None of them are being talked about as a gubernatorial candidate, but they are the subject of much discussion as potential candidates for down-ticket races.

Here’s the rundown:

David Pepper

The former Cincinnati city council member and Hamilton County commissioner has been down this road before.

In 2010, the year Ohio Democrats were cast out to wander in the wilderness, Pepper was one of the victims, as the Democratic candidate for state auditor.

He was defeated by Republican Dave Yost.

In 2014, though, Pepper is not looking for a rematch. He’s thinking seriously about taking on a bigger fish – Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, the former U.S. Senator who is in his fifth decade on the Ohio political scene.

Pepper makes no bones about the fact that he is seriously considering a run for attorney general.
“I’ve been seriously looking at it for some time,’’ Pepper said. “I’ve been traveling the state, meeting people, making contacts. I’ve probably traveled more around Ohio since 2010 than I did when I was running.”

And, last week, he went to California for a meeting of Democratic state attorneys general from around the country. California can be a nice place to visit, but one does not attend such a gathering just for fun.

DeWine would be no push-over. He was ousted from his Senate seat in 2006 by Democrat Sherrod Brown, but came back in 2010 and took out the incumbent Democratic attorney general, Richard Cordray, by a slim margin.

Eric Kearney:

At the moment, Kearney, of North Avondale, is the highest ranking Democrat in the Statehouse, as the minority leader of the State Senate.

He is also going to be term-limited out of office in 2014; and is likely to be looking for a new job in politics.
“I’m thinking about a lot of options,’’ Kearney said. “Either within Hamilton County or by running for state office.”

There are those in Cincinnati who would not mind seeing him jump into the 2013 Cincinnati mayor’s race. There are Democrats in Columbus who see him as an ideal candidate for one of the down-ticket offices; or perhaps as the lieutenant governor candidate, teamed up with whoever the Democrats nominate for governor.

Be certain of one thing, though – term limits in the legislature are not going to mean the end of Kearney running for public office.

Connie Pillich:

Pillich is a Democrat who has confounded Ohio Republicans.

Back in 2010, the big GOP tsunami year, the Montgomery Democrat ran for the 28th Ohio House District against Republican Mike Wilson, the founder of the Cincinnati Tea Party, at a time when the tea party was a force to be reckoned with.

She beat Wilson by a small margin.

The next year, the Republican-controlled apportionment board decided to reconfigure the 28th District; and threw thousands of new Republican voters into her district.

Last year, she ran again against Wilson in a much more Republican district.

And guess what? She won. This time by a substantial margin, about eight percentage points.
That gave some Ohio Democratic Party leaders the idea that Pillich – a tough campaigner and good fundraiser – has a force field around her when it comes to GOP attacks; and they see her as a potential statewide candidate in 2014.

Perhaps she might be the best fit to take on Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, who is considered damaged goods by many after his U.S. Senate loss to Brown last fall.

“I’ve heard all the rumors too,’’ Pillich said. “Right now, I’m focused on the job I have. I love being in the legislature.”

Plus, she said, the Ohio Democratic Party wants to keep her seat in the Ohio House; and she is well-positioned to do that.

Still, she does not rule out a run for statewide office.

Democrats from Cincinnati running for statewide office are rare birds; and don’t usually fare well – witness Pepper in 2010.

The last Democratic governor from Cincinnati was John J. Gilligan, elected in 1970. And he was a one-termer.

But as the Democratic base in Hamilton County continues to grow, Cincinnati Democrats may have better luck at statewide office in the future.

It would be s safe bet that some Democrat from Cincinnati – probably one or more  of the above mentioned – will be on the statewide ticket in 2014.