Spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall, election.
Even though it’s that far away, the 2014 race for governor started on Wednesday when Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald announced his Democratic candidacy against Republican Gov. John Kasich.
When you’re looking at raising $20 million just to be competitive, it’s never too early to get started.
FitzGerald seems as good as the Democrats can get, particularly since it’s more and more unlikely that former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray of Grove City will leave his post as director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington to run for governor.
FitzGerald has an impressive resume: Former FBI agent who fought public corruption and organized crime in Chicago; assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor; city council member and mayor of Lakewood; and first-ever elected executive of Ohio’s largest county, a notoriously corrupt enclave that seems to have been cleaned up under the new form of government headed by FitzGerald.
Of course, the candidate in person sometimes isn’t as good as the candidate on paper. FitzGerald has never been on such a grand stage, and we don’t know how he’ll perform. Initial impressions are that he is an average orator, competent but not inspiring, and it remains to be seen if he can connect with the voters in rural and suburban Ohio that he’ll need to beat Kasich.
While it’s possible that Kasich is beatable, here are the reasons FitzGerald is in an uphill fight,FitzG erald has tough road in trying to beat Kasich, with an assist from John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron:
• The economy. Although Ohio’s economy stumbled last month by losing 20,000 jobs, highest among all the states, Ohio’s economic situation has improved steadily under Kasich.
“While the economy might not be ideal, it’s been heading in the right direction and, rightly or wrongly, Gov. Kasich will take credit for that,” Green said.
When Kasich took office in January 2011, Ohio’s unemployment rate was 9 percent. Last month, it was 7.1 percent. Despite last month’s job regression, Ohio has gained 115,000 new jobs on Kasich’s watch.
• History. Since 1958, when Ohio began electing governors to four-year terms, Democrats have had trouble winning and retaining the governor’s office. Since 1962, every Republican who captured the governor’s office won a second-term, beginning with James A. Rhodes (1962 and ‘66, and again in 1974 and ‘78), followed by George V. Voinovich (1990 and ‘94) and Bob Taft (1998 and ‘02).
Democrats John J. Gilligan in 1974 and Ted Strickland in 2010 were defeated for second terms. Richard F. Celeste (1982 and ‘86) is the only Democrat to win a second term in the past 40 years.
• Turnout. Ohio’s elections for governor are separated by two years from presidential elections. Democratic candidates historically fare better when voter turnout is high, and it always is higher in presidential years. Turnout in Ohio’s last three presidential elections was fairly steady - 5.7 million voters in 2004, 5.77 million in 2008 and 5.65 million in 2012.
Strickland won the governor’s office in 2006, in part because Republican President George W. Bush, in his sixth year, was unpopular and Democrats were motivated to vote. Nearly 4.2 million voters cast ballots that year, at least 565,000 more voters than in each of the previous six gubernatorial elections back to 1982. When Taft won a second term in 2002, only 3.5 million voters showed up. And when Kasich won in 2010, there were 3.95 million voters.
In governor’s races, Green said, “it is difficult to beat incumbents, but especially Republican incumbents. That’s because Ohio leans slightly Republican.”
Democrat Barack Obama will be in the sixth year of his presidency in 2014, another historical bad omen for FitzGerald.
“Whichever party controls the White House doesn’t do very well in non-presidential election years,” Green said. “If history is any guide, 2014 will be a good Republican year.”
FitzGerald will have to be more than a good candidate to be elected governor in 2014. He’ll need some luck to beat the odds.
Joe Hallett is senior editor at The Dispatch.