After seven months of watching Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the only Democratic candidate to toss his hat into the ring to take on Republican incumbent Ohio Governor John R. Kasich next year, Ted Strickland, a one-term chief executive elected in 2006 on whose watch the Great Recession hit full force, told reporters on a conference call Monday morning that he’s “enthusiastically endorsing” FitzGerald.
Strickland, who served in Congress with John Kasich representing Ohioans, said FitzGerald is a proven leader for the middle class, has stood up for justice, brought criminals to justice and put unethical and corrupt people where they belong, out of government and in jail. By bowing out early this year, Strickland said he’s come to know FitzGerald and likes him personally and really likes him on important policy issues including economic and social issues like women’s health.
“Ed can do for Ohio what he’s done for Cuyahoga County,” Strickland told reporters. “He’s [FitzGerald] devoted to public service, to improving the lives of others … I’ve watched this guy and he gets it and get’s it done,” the affable former governor said, adding, “I’m going to do everything I can, personally, to see him elected Ohio’s next governor.”
Quick to respond to today’s announcement, the Ohio Republican Party said mocked Strickland’s endorsement of FitzGerald, saying no other Democrats have chosen to get in the race.
“With today’s endorsement Ted Strickland says that Ed FitzGerald is the best candidate to carry on his legacy of job loss, record high unemployment, and a budget shortfall of billions of dollars,” said Ohio Republican Party spokesman Chris Schrimpf. “Given Strickland’s failed, scandal-plagued record it’s no surprise that FitzGerald doesn’t want to be seen with Strickland.”
In an approximately half-house session with reporters, Strickland, who lost to John Kasich by only two percentage points and about 77,000 votes statewide, applauded FitzGerald, a former Mayor of Lakewood, west of Cleveland, as a fighter for the middle class, as someone the “middle class can put their trust in.”
Strickland said Ohio now ranks 47th in job creation, and credited his administration for putting Ohio back on the road to recovery. Referring to his administration as the “former administration” to Kasich, Strickland roasted Gov. Kasich and a GOP-controlled legislature for catering to the “wealthy and well-heeled” in Ohio by raising taxes on average Buckeyes to pay for income tax cuts to the most well off.
And why is he endorsing FitzGerald now, months after he announced his candidacy and toured the state? “We understand the importance of the next election … I think Ed is beautifully positioned and is doing what he needs to do to win this election, ” Strickland said, noting that in the seven months he’s traveled the state, FitzGerald is “making a wonderful impression on people.”
Strickland was giddy over FitzGerald’s background, calling it impeccable and “squeaky clean.”
“I was a candidate and I know the importance of early support,” he said, observing that money needs to be raised and that things have to happen to win. Early support is sign of strength, he said, not weakness.
Strickland said that he hopes FitzGerald gets the votes in Cuyahoga County he didn’t get in 2010, the year of the Tea Party in Ohio. If FitzGerald can up his vote total in Ohio’s most populous county, that can be the margin of difference to push FitzGerald into the governor’s chair, Strickland said.
“Coming from a Cuyahoga County electoral base and being as popular as he is, Ed will be able to do considerably better at getting out the vote than I was able to do,” Strickland said. “I have pledged to Ed to do what I can to be helpful to him.”
Calling FitzGerald, 45 years of age, attractive and smart, Strickland said Ohioans like him. “Ed has done the work, in my judgment, to merit support from all Democrats, including me … I’m a believer and he’s convinced me … I’m behind him and I think he can win.”
Strickland knows well how important winning big in Cuyahoga County means to any statewide race. Analysis of official election results released last Tuesday on last year’s presidential race, shows President Barack Obama did better in Cuyahoga County than any presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson nearly 50 years ago. Moreover, Obama won despite low voter turnout in the areas of his strongest support.
It turns out that nearly 80 percent of the registered voters in precincts won by Republican challenger Mitt Romney cast ballots in the Nov. 6 general election, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which noted that voter turnout was just 67 percent in the precincts won by Obama.
In 40 percent of Cuyahoga County’s 1,063 precincts, Obama won at least 80 percent of the votes. In Cuyahoga County overall, Obama defeated Mitt Romney, 69.3 percent to 29.6 percent, giving Obama his strongest showing in any Ohio county
Now that Strickland knows FitzGerald better, he says the former FBI special agent and county prosecutor “is in the right place on every single issue that is important to me and to progressive democrats, he has the right values, the right position.”
At about the same time four years ago, when Strickland was well ahead of Kasich in polling, Kasich reported about a half-million in campaign fundraising, a figure Strickland said would be good if FitzGerald can announcement the same on Wednesday, the next deadline for campaign financing reports. “If Ed is in that ballpark, he’s showing he’s gathering support … it will take a lot of money … and Democrats will have the resources needed to win, that’s not a question,” Strickland said.
Asked what FitzGerald’s campaign message should be, Strickland, who turns 72 in August, said he’d talk about Kasich’s tax package and how it increases taxes on the working middle class, increases property taxes, reduces the Homestead exemption for future retirees and increases sales taxes to pay for tax cuts for Ohio’s wealthiest. Kasich, Strickland said, can “rightfully be labeled a tax increaser” because working people are paying the bill for tax decrease for wealthy. That message, he said, is a powerful message for Democrats.
Strickland also took time to connect economic issues to social issues. The so-called war on women, he said, is very real in Ohio, as is pay equity and a woman being able to make decisions about her own health care and issue of choice. Gov. Kasich, with support from a Republican-controlled legislature, has passed “some very troublesome legislation dealing with women and their health care,” he declared, adding that while jobs and the economy is important to every sector and every person, issues dealing with personal freedom and personal choice should not be minimized.
“Kasich and the General Assembly have taken Ohio backward to Texas and Mississippi,” he said. “I don’t want Ohio to be like Texas or Florida, ” he said, urging FitzGerald and Democrats to “speak out about labor and women’ s rights.”
Good news for Ed FitzGerald is that last year’s election marked the fifth straight time the Democrat showing in Cuyahoga County increased. Bill Clinton received 60.8 percent in 1996; Al Gore 62.6 percent in 2000; John Kerry 66.6 percent in 2004; and Obama 68.9 percent in 2008.
John Kasich won most rural counties in Ohio compared to Strickland who won a handful of urban centers. It’s a well known standard in Ohio politics that if you can win big in Cuyahoga County, Republican voters in rural counties might just as well have stayed home, as their votes will be nullified by large turnouts in the state’s most populous county.
FitzGerald’s base is Cuyahoga County, so if Ohio Democrats can make the 2014 election look more like last year’s election than the 2010 election, when voter turnout was only 49 percent, Team Kasich will find the going tougher than otherwise thought. Moreover, if FitzGerald can convert anger or resentment by voting age women over Ohio’s intrusion into their health care decisions, especially with respect to the obstacle course Kasich and his backers in the legislature have thrown up in seven stand-alone bills and in the two-year budget he signed into law before July 1, FitzGerald can put Team Kasich in jeopardy.
But conventional wisdom says the race is Kasich’s to lose, given the power of his incumbency to bend policy and budgets to his liking, as he did last week when he announced $3 billion in transportation infrastructure improvements derived from bonding and spending future toll revenue from the Ohio Turnpike.
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