A Look At Democratic Prospects For 2022, 2024
White man smiling

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio

Let's talk about Election Day two years hence. It is the next chance Democrats have to win statewide non-judicial offices and regain influence in Ohio.

This year Democrats John O'Donnell and Jennifer Brunner have a fighting chance to knock off two Republicans and claim seats on the Ohio Supreme Court. That would give Democrats a 4-3 majority. That could result in fairer boundaries in state legislative and Congressional districts in 2022 if the newly carved districts, following the census, end up before the court. Ultimately, a court led by Democratic justices might order a new, rational, responsible, more generous funding system for Ohio's public schools, too.

If Ohio Democrats can pick up 12 seats in the Ohio House of Representatives on Nov. 3, they gain control. There is no chance that Democrats can gain a majority in the Ohio Senate, but could add 2-3 seats.

Not on the ballot this year are the governorship and four other statewide offices, all held by Republicans. That comes in 2022, as does the U.S. Senate seat of Republican Rob Portman. Sherrod Brown, Ohio's Democratic senator, was re-elected in 2018 and has 4 years to go in his third term. Brown is the only Democrat serving as a statewide elected non-judicial official.

Let us examine the Republican lineup for 2022.

Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. John Husted are expected to run as a tandem again, but that could change. First, there have been persistent rumors that DeWine got Husted to drop his own bid for the gubernatorial nomination in 2018 with a promise to step aside after one term. Second, DeWine will turn 75 in 2022 and might decide enough is enough. Third, the right-wing Republicans are furious at DeWine for coronavirus restrictions and doubtless will field a challenger to him in the GOP primary. Because of his generally wise actions during the pandemic, DeWine is more highly thought of by Democrats and Independents than Republicans. If he gets through the primary, his broad popularity would make him tough to beat.

The dilemma Democrats face is whom to run for governor. The problem is that the cupboard is bare. Right now, the only Democrat who could give the Republicans a run for their money is Sen. Sherrod Brown. At 67, Brown is no spring chicken, but he will not turn 70 until the day after the Nov. 8, 2022 election. Brown has presidential ambitions, but dropped out of the race early in the 2020 cycle. If he stays in the Senate, he has little opportunity to break out of the pack and gain the nomination in 2024. But if Brown runs for and wins the Ohio governorship, he gains a new stronger platform from which to run for President, particularly if he were to govern the state in a stellar fashion.

Brown could single-handedly rebuild the Ohio Democratic Party. First, as governor, he might well be able to appoint a Democrat as his replacement in the Senate. He could keep the Brown name alive in Ohio politics for decades to come by appointing his daughter, Columbus Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown. And if he were elected President in 2024, his Democratic lieutenant governor would take over. Republicans are losing sleep over the above possibilities.  

If Brown declines, there are several Ohio Democrats eyeing the governorship, but nobody even remotely approaches Brown's stature and the vote-getting ability. Here are some names to ponder:

Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper:  2 statewide losses. Team player.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley: Regional candidate. Won accolades amid tragedy.

Ex-State Rep. Connie Pillich: Lost Hamilton County commissioner primary. Smart.

Cincinnati mayor John Cranley: Looks good on paper. Charisma undetermined.

Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein; Lost county prosecutor race in 2016. Shrewd.

Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval: Lost Congressional race in 2018, but charismatic to the max.

Youngstown Congressman Tim Ryan: Presidential nomination quest busted. Populist.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther: Hamstrung by BLM vs. police controversy. Cautious.

Ex-Ohio Health Director Amy Acton: Most popular Democrat in Ohio. Kind.

Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewisz: Getting the Glass City on its feet. Fighter.

My dream ticket is Pureval for governor and Acton for lieutenant governor. One male and one female. One from Cincinnati and one from Columbus. One minority and one white. Both are super-charismatic in person and on television. Gretchen Whitmer got elected governor of Michigan in 2018 with similar strengths. Cordray's lack of charisma cost him governorship in 2018.

I recommend the following for the four other state administrative offices.

Secretary of State: Portage County Commissioner Kathleen Clyde. She ran a close race in 2018 and is ready to take out the vote-suppressor-in-chief. Brilliant.

Attorney General: Ex-U.S. attorney Steve Dettelbach of Cleveland. He gave the public relations puffball a run for his money in 2018 and deserves another, this time successful, attempt. Gut-fighter.

Auditor: Klein's stature continues to grow. Politically savvy. Cordray has  superior name recognition and might be the answer if Klein does not run.

Treasurer: Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes is my choice. As a legislator from Akron in Northeast Ohio working in Central Ohio, she is well known in two thirds of the state. It is well past time for Democrats to elect a talented Black woman to statewide office. Rising star.

I left out speculation about who should oppose Portman in 2022. It is painful to think about Moneybags Rob, the errand boy for the rich, and the $50-100 million he will spend to win a third term.

The best opponent would be a distinguished woman, not from Cincinnati, Rob's hometown, but from Cleveland or Columbus. She would be a prolific fund-raiser who is dynamite on TV and in person. Send your suggestions and rationales to my email below and I will revisit the question in a subsequent column.


-- It is ironic that candidates for public office rarely if ever advertise in the Columbus Dispatch, but the paper is full of ads from Columbus TV personalities wanting to be voted CBUS Top Picks.

-- Dispatch political editor Darrel Rowland apparently got left off a  list of the leading political journalists in the state until his bosses reportedly complained and got him added. Maybe he should have advertised in the paper.

(Please send your comments and suggestions for future columns to John K. Hartman, ColumbusMediaInsider@gmail.com)  

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