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Democrats shift focus away from FitzGerald

TNS Regional News • Aug 21, 2014 at 8:07 PM

Democrat Ed FitzGerald did not mention his gubernatorial campaign’s woes during a speech last night at the annual Logan County Democratic picnic.

But they weren’t a secret to the 50 or so gathered in an outdoor shelter behind the local American Legion. In fact, county Democratic Chairman Ben Stahler said state party leaders held a conference call with local leaders on Tuesday to outline how the campaign for governor was being de-emphasized in favor of downticket candidates who stand a much better chance of winning than FitzGerald.

Before FitzGerald delivered his standard campaign talk, Stahler expressed hope that the Cuyahoga County executive would address his campaign crisis directly. Instead, it was 17 minutes of points FitzGerald has made countless times before, and he took only one question from the audience.

During four minutes of questions by reporters afterward, FitzGerald said he did not know if his financially ailing campaign would be able to run another TV ad. Already, several key staff members have departed the campaign, and more personnel moves will be announced on Friday.

“We’re going to be running a grass-roots campaign in the next 75 days,” he said. “Some of it’s just good old-fashioned hard work. We’re going to have volunteers knocking on doors and making calls. And I think slowly but surely, we’re going to get there.”

Despite state Democratic leaders’ new commitment to other statewide campaigns, FitzGerald said he doesn’t feel the party has abandoned him.

Asked to describe his roadmap to victory in the Nov. 4 election, FitzGerald said, “Well, we’re going to keep talking about things that I care about, which is why I got in the race in the first place. And I think that most people agree with us on the issues. I think the issues you heard me talking about matter to the average family in Ohio. If it’s an election where people focus on what matters to the average people in Ohio, then we can win.”

The focus has been more on FitzGerald than the issues during August. First came the revelation, dug up by Republicans, that he and a female member of a visiting Irish delegation were found by suburban Cleveland police alone in his parked car at 4:30 a.m. in October 2012. Then The Dispatch uncovered the fact that FitzGerald drove for a decade without a regular driver’s license. And now, the abandonment by staff members and the party’s refocusing.

“I still think it just means he’ll have to work all the harder to earn the votes of Ohioans,” Stahler said.

He said the driver’s license issue doesn’t affect FitzGerald’s qualification to become governor, “but it’s also an issue he can’t run from. He has to meet it head-on like a train.”

FitzGerald had been scheduled to appear at an event on Friday in Columbus that later in the day will include Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, speaking in place of Kasich. However, FitzGerald must attend a funeral, so running mate Sharen Neuhardt will take his slot, campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said.

Adam Brannon, a Democrat who’s in his third term as Bellefontaine mayor even though he’s just 29, questioned the practical but not political import of not having a driver’s license for 10 years.

He condoned the heavier emphasis on the races for other statewide offices, especially the treasurer’s race.

“It seems like the numbers are close across the board — except for the governor’s race,” Brannon said.

He said the fact that FitzGerald has been in the public eye for only a few years — and apparently was inadequately vetted — is coming back to bite Democrats. And FitzGerald should have taken it upon himself to tell party leaders “Oh, by the way ...”

“I mean, I can appreciate that it may have been an oversight, but that’s a long time for an oversight,” Brannon said. “It seems like the governor’s race has always been a guy who’s been around the block a couple of times, whereas this has not been the case here.”


By Darrel Rowland - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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