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How Will FitzGerald’s Trouble Affect Democrats’ Chances This November?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 5:32 PM

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Ed FitzGerald speaks to Cuyahoga County Council earlier this year. (Nick Castele / idestream)

Top Democratic Party officials insist Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is in the race to stay, despite the fact that his top staffers are leaving his campaign. Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles takes a look at what that means to his campaign and to other statewide races on the Democratic ticket.

Ohio State University political science professor Paul Beck says he doesn’t remember a situation like this in Ohio politics where a candidate has faced so many problems this late in the campaign. 

First, there was the release of information in early August that, two years ago, FitzGerald had been found by police in a car at 4:30 in the morning with a woman who was not his wife.

Then, days later, the revelation came that FitzGerald has been driving without a valid Ohio driver’s license for the better part of a decade. 

And then there’s the money—or lack of it. Gov. John Kasich’s campaign war chest is at least four times the size of FitzGerald’s. And while party leaders say they’re standing behind FitzGerald, self-described Democrats are turning up on public websites and on radio call-in programs, saying they want FitzGerald to step down and want the party to put someone else on the ballot. 

But Beck said the deadline for doing that passed earlier this month.

“That information was released right on the eve of those deadlines,” Beck said. “It was almost like whoever released it or whoever leaked it knew those deadlines were coming up and didn’t want to give the party time to replace FitzGerald, if indeed he was willing to be replaced.”

According to the secretary of state’s office, if FitzGerald were to resign from the ballot right now, the party would not have a slated candidate for governor this November. However, if FitzGerald were to resign a week from now, his name would still be on the ballot, but the party could appoint someone else to run in his place, even if that new candidate wouldn’t be named on the ballot. 

Beck said it would be tough for anyone to step in and win at that point, but if there’s one person who might have a chance, he thinks it could be former Gov. Ted Strickland, who narrowly lost to Kasich in 2010.

“And then, of course, it’s a long shot,” he said. “To not have his name on the ballot means you’ve got to have a lot of money to get the message out to voters that he is the stand-in. And of course the media helps, because they indeed would publicize it. It would get more attention than the Ohio State band and Braxton Miller’s shoulder injury.”

FitzGerald’s press secretary, Lauren Hitt, said the staff changes that are being made at the FitzGerald campaign right now are to “help maximize our resources and provide the best chance of success” for FitzGerald and the rest of the Democratic ticket.

Beck said that last point is key.

“The real issue, I think, for the Democrats, is what does this do to the standing of people who are on the ticket?” he said. “Are they hurt by either turnout declines because the top of the ticket candidate is so discouraging to people, and what about fundraising?”

Some of the down ticket Democratic candidates have raised about as much money as their Republican opponents recently, though the incumbents have more money overall. Beck said it will be important for those down-ticket candidates to use their money to insure Democratic turnout this fall.

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