Nan Whaley

When Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley announced she would be a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Ohio governor, the contest apparently ended.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, who said he would announce his candidacy this summer, need not bother. Find another race, brother. The fix is in.

You see, the Ohio Democratic Party tends to nominate people for governor and senator whose turn it is to run, rather than who is the best candidate.

In fact, the only Democrat to win the governorship and then win re-election in more than 60 years was none other than Dick Celeste, who defeated favorite Billy Brown and upstart Jerry Springer in the primary in 1982.

Democrats Mike DiSalle  in 1962, Jack Gilligan  in 1974 and Ted Strickland in 2010 lost their re-election bids in part because they were weak candidates in the first place.

One has to go all the way back to Frank Lausche to find another Democrat who won a second term. Lausche won a second 2-year term in 1950 and third one 1952.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, the only Democrat currently in a non-judicial statewide office, took over the Ohio Democratic Party when David Pepper resigned a few months ago and put his protégé Liz Walters in charge.

Aside from powerful politicians liking to control things, I believe that Senator Brown determined that he had to take over the Ohio Democratic Party because its continued weakness would put his re-election chances in jeopardy in 2024.

His top two advisers are his wife, widely read columnist Connie Schultz, and his daughter, Columbus Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown. It is no secret that both want a woman to be the next governor of Ohio.

Enter Whaley whose No. 1 sales pitch is that Ohio needs a woman governor.

The Dayton Democrat played her cards well in 2018. She launched a campaign for governor early in 2017, but soon realized that the powers behind the throne in the Ohio Democratic Party, a handful of union bosses and big donors, did not have eyes for her, but rather former attorney general Richard Cordray, who had worked his way up through the ranks of the party and was a favorite of former President Barack Obama.

The power brokers determined that it was Cordray's turn to run for governor. In other words, they were confident that Cordray, as governor, would see the issues their way and do favors for them.

Once Cordray became the chosen one, the power brokers told candidates Whaley and Connie Pillich, a former state representative whose campaign discipline and debate performances were clearly superior to Whaley's, that it was time to withdraw. It was made clear that support for Whaley and Pillich in future races would be hard to come by if the two women stayed in. Both bowed out.

State Rep. Joe Schiavoni, former Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich, who might run for mayor of Cleveland again this year, and former judge Bill O'Neill ignored the power brokers and stayed in. Nevertheless, Cordray shellacked all three in the primary.

Unfortunately, Cordray's lack of charisma, weak performance on television, inability to respond to the failure to test "rape kit" charges, inept campaign management and Mike DeWine's personal popularity and slick campaign resulted in Cordray losing the general election by more than three percent.

In the final analysis, Cordray, whose turn was "next" and who pleased the power brokers, was a weak, easily beaten candidate.

Meanwhile, Nan Whaley was plotting her second campaign for the gubernatorial nomination, cozying up the power brokers and schmoozing the dwindling ranks of Democratic officeholders in the Ohio Legislature, the U.S. Congress, and in Ohio's big cities.

Keep in mind that the Republicans have controlled the governorship 26 out of the last 30 years. The Democratic power brokers have done a lousy job of calling the shots.

Whaley got some favorable buzz from the national press from her handling of the terrible storm that struck Dayton and the horrible massacre at a Dayton night club.

Her biggest obstacle was U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Youngstown. About to be redistricted out of his seat in 2022, Ryan considered running for either governor or U.S. senator.

A private poll showed only Ryan giving DeWine a run for his money and Ryan seemed to be leaning that way until U.S. Sen. Rob Portman announced he was not running for re-election in 2022. An open senate seat was too much for Ryan to resist and he threw his hat in the ring. (For more on Ryan's candidacy, see Quickies below.)

Whaley had told friends she was either going to run for senator or governor. Once Ryan's senate intentions were known, Whaley announced her gubernatorial bid. A boatload of state legislators quickly endorsed her because she appeared to be anointed by Brown, party bosses and party power brokers. In other words, it was her turn.

What's wrong with the whole fiasco is that Whaley is not the best candidate Democrats have to run for governor.

Dayton is a mid-sized city in Ohio, not nearly as hard to govern as Columbus, Cleveland or Cincinnati. Whaley's accomplishments in Dayton are at best muted.

One thing Ohioans like are candidates who have run statewide before. Very few non-judicial candidates win the first time around for governor and senator. Whaley has not run statewide before.

While having a woman elected governor of Ohio would be a very good thing, it is not a viable campaign platform. A proven record of accomplishments is what Ohioans want.

TV presence and debate skills are necessary and Whaley is unproven there, too.

Right now the most important qualification for the Democratic candidate for governor is the ability to take the state Republicans' corruption and hang on their heads. Whaley has no record of making such a case. Whaley would be better off running for a lesser statewide office like auditor. (See Candidate Scorecard below.)

The person Ohio Democrats need now to run for governor is a proven combatant and an experienced state officeholder, who is profoundly articulate, knows how to do television and can debate the socks off of Mike DeWine.

His name is Lee Fisher. He has been elected lieutenant governor and attorney general. He is dean of the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. He has been there and done that. He is from Cleveland, the biggest Democratic vote bastion in the state.

Fisher's running mate should be Cincinnati's Connie Pillich. A former state legislator, she is tough as nails and can stand shoulder to shoulder with Fisher in eviscerating the GOP scofflaws. She ran by far the best primary campaign in 2017 before she was pushed out.

The population of the Cleveland metropolitan area exceeds two million and is more than two-and-a-half times the population of the Dayton metro area. Whaley loses any hometown advantage anyway because DeWine is also from the Dayton region and generally polls well there. Meanwhile, Fisher would have Cleveland all to himself. Pillich hails from Cincinnati. The Ohio portion of the Cincy metro area is double Dayton's. Again, she has it all to herself.

The best plan is for the Democratic power brokers and the leaders of the Ohio Democratic Party to stay out of the primaries for senator, governor and other statewide offices, yet insisting that all candidates sign a statement in advance that they will support the winners of the primary, campaign for said winners and agree to show up the morning after the primary to publicly endorse the winners.

May Candidate Scorecard

With Dr. Amy Acton dropping out, my new preferred list of candidates is:

U.S. Senate: Ryan.

Governor/Lieutenant Governor: Fisher/Pillich.

Attorney General: Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein.

Secretary of State: Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes.

State Auditor: Whaley.

State Treasurer: Cranley


-- The Columbus Dispatch and its parent Gannett Co. are pushing LOCALiQ, an in-house marketing agency that offers its services to Columbus businesses. It promises "a compelling brand story" and no doubt pushes clients to buy ads in the print and online Dispatch. One thing about advertising is that it must be timely, offering the right message at the right time. Unfortunately, because of early deadlines and printing the paper in Detroit, most of the news in the print Dispatch is two days old -- hardly the place to deliver a "compelling brand story." It the Dispatch wants to get back its missing snap, crackle and pop, it needs to return to late night deadlines and fresh news in the morning.

-- 15th District U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers raised $1.4 million for a U.S. Senate campaign until, all of a sudden, the Columbus Republican announced he's quitting the Congress and becoming the head of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce. Certainly he will return the misguided donations and other money in his campaign treasury, having obtained them under false pretences.

-- NBA basketball star LeBron James has 49.5 million Twitter followers. Remember, I suggested he run for the U.S. Senate in my February column. I guess not.

-- The Dispatch's weaker and weaker tea of civic engagement is supposedly being propped up by the investigation of the management of the Columbus Zoo. It forced two executives to resign and apparently promise to repay for housing relatives and other benefits. No doubt somebody of authority at the zoo leaked the story to the Dispatch. Hardly Pulitzer material. The Polar Bears are still getting fed on time.

-- For a guy who announced that he leaving office at the end of 2022, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman is making press statement after press statement as if he is running for something. It is no secret that Donald Trump's forces were going to primary Portman in 2022 and had a good chance of succeeding. It could be that Portman pulled out of the race to get the Trump monkey off his back. Maybe he will change his mind and get back in the race after all the wannabe replacements like Josh Mandel and Jane Timken chew each other up. Or maybe Rob is gearing to run for President or Vice President in 2024 if Trump's influence wanes.

-- In case you missed it, Sheetz is opening gas station convenience stores in central Ohio. Some folks are plenty excited. I could care less.

-- Tim Ryan sounded like he was running again for the U.S. House in the Youngstown vicinity when he said he would "fight like hell for working people" in his U.S. Senate announcement. That line falls flat in rural and small town Ohio, where Democrats get clobbered. Hard to believe he graduated from Bowling Green State University, the gateway to northwest Ohio, a dead zone for Democrats.

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

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