Sherrod Bets It All On Nan

It was not enough for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown to endorse Nan Whaley for governor months ago.

Key Ohio Democrats subsequent countermanded Brown and denied Whaley the Ohio Democratic Party endorsement in her primary race for governor against John Cranley. The Party stayed neutral.

Two years ago, Brown took over the state party and installed a protégé, Liz Walters, as party chair.

Not to be outdone, especially since he is the only statewide elected non-judicial Democrat in Ohio, Brown did a TV ad for Whaley that began running in a reportedly multimillion dollar statewide buy four weeks before the May 3 primary.

While Cranley appeared to have gained some momentum toward winning the primary in recent weeks, the Brown TV ads for Whaley may have evened the playing field or even tilted it slightly in her direction. (More on how Cranley must respond in a moment.)

The biggest obstacle to winning a primary is gaining name recognition. Simply, people are reluctant to vote for somebody they have never heard of.

What the Brown ad does, first and foremost, is sharply increase Whaley's name recognition. Just about every likely Democratic primary voter knows who Brown is.

Second, Brown has many fans among Ohio Democrats having been on the ballot numerous times over nearly five decades and having been in office during most of that time. Some folks who were skeptical about Whaley and who were unaware of her, may now come her way. Brown does have his detractors in the party, but they represent a distinct minority.

Third, as women voters are the mainstay of the Democratic Party and as Brown is expected  to run for a fourth term in 2024, the Senator has taken a big step toward endearing himself to women voters by endorsing a female for governor. Part of Whaley's pitch is that men have screwed up Ohio government and a woman is needed to clean it up.

Fourth, Brown's Republican opponents always bring up alleged domestic abuse charges against Brown from nearly 50 years ago. The  Whaley gambit and his remarriage to noted feminist columnist Connie Schultz help indemnify him against that charge in the future.

The above is predicated on Whaley winning the primary.

On the other hand, if Whaley loses the primary, egg immediately lands on Brown's face. He flops as a kingmaker and Democrats unhappy with him taking sides and supporting Cranley might decide to primary Brown in 2024. If Cranley is elected governor, he might decide to use his power to back an opponent to Brown in the primary. Even worse for Brown, Cranley might decide to run from cover and jump into the primary himself.

If Cranley is elected governor, he immediately will become a player in national politics and his name will be mentioned as a possible nominee for president as incumbent Joe Biden is unlikely to run for re-election in my opinion. Whaley's profile does not suggest she is presidential material, and, of course, if elected governor, there is no way she would do anything but back her endorser for re-election.

It is possible that Sherrod has decided not to run for re-election in 2024 and has no worries about any endorsement bounce-back.

Loyal readers of my column may recall that from November of 2020 until December of 2021, I ran a monthly list of preferred Democratic candidates for state office. I initially proposed Sherrod Brown as the strongest candidate for governor because he was the most popular Democrat in the state and because he could run from cover, that is still have his Senate job if he lost.

What  must Cranley do to counteract the Brown endorsement?

His initial response was to come out for voluntary summer school. I do not understand what constituency he is trying to reach here and do not see it as an effective issue.

I say that one good endorsement deserves another, so Cranley should immediately go on the air with endorsements for him from some or all of the following:

1. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo. Her district was expanded a decade ago to include Cleveland suburbs. She is well known in half of the state. As the longest serving woman in the U.S. House, she is a feminist superstar, a perfect counterpunch to Brown's feminist-targeted pitch.

2. Aftab Pureval, mayor of Cincinnati. He succeeded Cranley as mayor of the Queen City in January. He is the charisma champion of Ohio Democrats and the best candidate we have for anything. Because Cranley works well with the business community, some Cincinnati voters are less than enthusiastic about voting for him. Aftab's endorsement would pull in the rank and file, not just in southwest Ohio, but throughout the state, where Aftab is well-known because he has made the rounds of many county party chicken dinners.

3. Other Cincinnati celebrities and athletes who are well-known and well-regarded around the state. I won't name any because I do not know their politics.

4. Prominent Clevelanders connected to Cranley's alma mater, John Carroll University.

5. Cranley's wife Dena and their son Joseph. Look at the picture of the three of them on the Cranley for Governor website. This is a quintessential American family with which not only Democratic voters can identify, but also independents and a lot of Republicans. (Note: Cranley or Whaley must get cross-over voters to win the governorship.)

How Dems Can Blow It In November

The Ohio Democratic Party has been out of the money for a long time.

The Republicans who run the State of Ohio are in disarray, fighting among themselves and caught up in controversies.

Even the most cynical observers accept that the Dems could regain some power in the state on Nov. 8. Maybe a lot of power.

Right now, the GOP controls nearly everything. All the state administrative offices are in its  hands as are big majorities in the Ohio House and Senate, a 12-4 edge in Congress and 4 of 7 seats on the Ohio Supreme Court.

Too much control does lead to things going wrong, in-fighting and thinking they can get away with anything dubious or illegal.

The first fly in the ointment came in the form of Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor. Finding GOP gerrymandering offensive and illegal, she joined with the three Democrats on the court to throw out new Ohio legislative maps three times with a fourth toss-out in prospect and maybe contempt citations against Redistricting Commission members and statewide officeholders Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose for defying the court's orders.

This has caused the primaries for Ohio House and Senate seats to be pulled from the May 3 primary ballot and likely rescheduled for Aug. 2. Elections for state central committee men and women, based on senate districts, will be held later as well.

O'Connor also joined the Dems in rejecting the Congressional remap, but different procedures caused the remap to be formally revisited before the 2024 elections so a crazy-quilt map done by the commission will go into effect in time for the May 3 primary. All this could be changed at any moment by decisions in state and federal courts.

Whatever the outcome of all the judicial wrangling, Ohio Democrats must raise their game and be prepared to overcome superior political technology possessed by the Republicans. I fully expect that by now GOP video experts have devastatingly negative TV ads in the can to take down Cranley or Whaley. Remember, the  faux TV newscast ads in 2008 that suggested then Gov. Ted Strickland ran the state in the ditch? They tested so well that the GOP used them again in the Senate race of 2010. Strickland never effectively countered. Then in 2018, DeWine and company used "you failed to test the rape kits" ads against the Democratic nominee Richard Cordray. He failed to counter and lost, as did Strickland.

And the money. The GOP has millions to Ohio Democrats' thousands at all levels of competition from statewide races to county elections. DeWine loaned his campaign $3 million in the fall of 2018 to make sure he had enough to crush Cordray.


-- The Dispatch regularly stumbles by allowing the triumph of "art" over content. This was never truer than on the front page of the editorial section on Sunday March 27. Half the page featured a "portrait" -- that is a picture augmented by graphic gimmickry -- of Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, making her look like a weird Carol Burnett. On the bottom half of the page, an editorial defending her appears but it is in reverse type -- that is white letters on a black background. This is a reader turn-off that caused many  readers to skip the article and turn the page.

-- Meanwhile, the Dispatch apparently is abandoning Capitol Square by selling its nearby office and moving blocks away. Instead of heavy upping its coverage of Ohio's corrupt government, it is opening temporary mini-offices in library branches in "underserved" areas of the city. I guess editors and reporters do not feel they know what is going on the city they are supposed to cover.

-- Instead of becoming a fresh breeze running the newsroom at the Dispatch, interim editor Kelly Lecker kept up the social issue pandering that her predecessor Alan Miller pioneered. After three months at the helm, Lecker did not get the permanent top job, so she is departing to become editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison. The paper is owned by Lee Newspapers that has a little more heart for its newspapers than Gannett, the owner of the Dispatch. Meanwhile, Beryl Love, the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, has been put in charge of the Dispatch. That is good news because The Enquirer is a ten times better newspaper than the Dispatch. It actually reflects its community. I suspect that Love will continue to run both papers and install a female lieutenant at the Dispatch.

--  Ohio Democrats "Cost of Corruption Tour" around the state is a respectable idea, but it is ineffective. The phrase is too general. The typical Ohio voter will not be motivated by it to throw out the Republicans. You have to raise lots of money, hire a clever TV ad maker, and come up with a 30-second knockout punch. Hey readers, send a better, punchier slogan or TV ad script to the email below and I will share it in my next column.

(Please send your comments and suggestions for future columns to John K. Hartman,  

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