Pillich versus Mandel could be a classic

May 26, 2013

The 2014 slate of Democratic candidates for Ohio’s statewide offices is not exactly set in stone, but it is getting pretty close.

Why so early, you ask?

Well, when you have been beaten like a rented mule in the 2010 statewide elections, as the Ohio Democratic Party was, there is no such thing as being too early out of the gate.

That was the year when the Democrats lost every statewide constitutional office in Ohio, from governor on down. And with the Republicans controlling both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly, the GOP was able to re-draw congressional and state legislative district lines that could keep them in the driver’s seat for the rest of the decade.

Climbing back to the top of the hill on Capitol Square in Columbus is a steep, steep hike and Ohio Democrats need all the time they can get to find credible candidates, get their names known statewide and raise money for what promises to be a steel-cage death match with the GOP in 2014.

There could be Democratic primaries next spring for some of the statewide offices, but Ohio Democratic Party leaders have made it clear who their favorites are at this point and would just as soon scare away any potential challengers as soon as possible.

Two of the declared candidates on the Democratic side are from Hamilton County – a pretty good indication of the county’s growing influence in statewide Democratic politics.

Right now, the Democratic field looks like this:

•    Governor: Ed  FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive who is out actively campaigning for the nomination to unseat Republican Gov. John Kasich; and, so far, at least three potential rivals – former governor Ted Strickland, former congresswoman Betty Sutton, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan – have taken a pass on a 2014 governor’s race.

•    Attorney General:  Former Cincinnati council member and Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper, who is the only member of the early, unofficial Democratic slate to have run statewide before – he ran for state auditor in the 2010 GOP tsunami and lost to Republican Dave Yost. Now he is taking on another daunting task – taking on GOP incumbent Mike DeWine, a  former U.S. Senator whose name has been on the ballot about as many times as Heinz has varieties.

•    Secretary of State: State Sen. Nina Turner of Cleveland, who is ready to take on the Republican incumbent Jon Husted. An African-American woman, she has been out accusing Husted of being “the secretary of suppression,’’ arguing that he has done all that he can to keep Democratic voters – particularly African-Americans – from the polls. It’s a charge Husted denies vehemently.

•    State Auditor: John Patrick Carney, a state representative from Columbus, who hasn’t announced but appears to be poised to run against Yost.

•    State Treasurer: State Rep. Connie Pillich, a Democratic from Montgomery, announced this past week that she will be running – not much of a surprise, since she has been using nearly all her spare time for the past year traveling the state and introducing herself to Democrat from parts of the state far away from her northern Hamilton County district.

Many political observers look at the 2014 statewide races and see the incumbent Republican treasurer, Josh Mandel, as being potentially the most vulnerable of the GOP  statewide officeholders.

A former Ohio House member and Marine Corps veteran of Iraq, Mandel won the office in the GOP landslide of 2010. Almost immediately upon taking office in Columbus, he launched a campaign for the U.S. Senate – a move that was seen as over-ambitious, even among some in his own party.

It did not go well – the Democratic incumbent, Sherrod Brown, defeated him fairly easily.
Some believe that left Mandel as damaged goods.

The Ohio Democratic Party certainly thinks so, and they think Pillich has the resume and the campaign ability to knock Mandel off in 2014.

Pillich has been a thorn in the side of the Ohio Republican Party for some time now.

A lawyer and a former captain in the U.S. Air Force, Pillich won the 28th Ohio House District away from the GOP in 2008, beating Virgil Lovitt of Sharonville by 10 percentage points.

Then, in 2010, when the tea party movement was a hot commodity, she was challenged by Mike Wilson, the founder of the Cincinnati Tea Party. That turned out to be a win for Pillich, albeit a close one – 602 votes.

By 2012, the Republicans in the legislature had re-drawn the northern Hamilton County district and had turned it into a clearly majority Republican district.

Again, Wilson was Pillich’s opponent; and she shocked the GOP by winning the redrawn district by eight percentage points.

“She’s shown she can win over Republican votes,’’ said Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke. “She’s a great campaigner. She works hard. And she raises money.”

Even Wilson gives her credit.

“She is a formidable opponent,’’ said Wilson, who said he has no plans to run for the House seat Pillich is giving up. “She is willing to say and do whatever it takes to win. But I know Josh Mandel  too. He won’t back down from a fight.”