He won Ohio and the presidency twice in the 1990s, and the presidential candidate he stumped for in 2008 and 2012 did the same. President Bill Clinton will again be in the Buckeye State on Friday, June 13th, this time in Columbus to headline the 2014 Ohio Democratic Party State Dinner.
But can the underdog candidate from Arkansas, who won a three-way race in 1992 with then-President George H.W. Bush and upstart Texas billionaire Ross Perot, do for Ohio's 2014 underdog candidate from Cleveland what he did for President Barack Obama twice, namely, deliver his mantle of popularity to Ohio's Democratic candidate for governor this year, Ed FitzGerald, who is little known outside his home turf of Cuyahoga County, where he serves as the County Executive?
Gov. John R. Kasich, his powerful and well-funded incumbent Republican prey who conventional wisdom around Capital Square says will win in November, has launched his first reelection ad campaign, courtesy of the Republican Governors Association [RGA], in an off-year election when enthusiasm among Democrats to turnout to vote is historically lower than presidential election years.
RGA Communications Director Gail Gitcho spoke of Kasich in glowing terms: "It’s tax day, and for once, Ohio has reason to celebrate. Governor Kasich has made good on his promises to kill the death tax, cut income taxes for all Ohioans and reduce the tax burden on small businesses. These meaningful tax reforms have fueled job creation. Since Governor Kasich took office, the unemployment rate has plummeted from 9.1 percent to 6.5 percent. Thanks to Governor Kasich, the Buckeye State is making a comeback."
In 2012, when the Republican Party and all its presidential hopefuls put President Obama and the White House on the defense for most of the year, President Clinton stepped up and made his case for a second term for America's first African-American president when he delivered his nominating speech in Charlotte, NC, site of the Democratic National Convention.
Reporting on his performance at the time, Clinton’s address was a testament to "his ease on stage, the sheer theatricality of the performance," according to one national report that said the "speech was a vivid illustration of why Clinton survived so many disasters in office, and, even 12 years out of power, remains more effective than most politicians of the succeeding generation."
For Ed FitzGerald and the Ohio Democratic Party, Bill Clinton returning to Ohio to boost confidence for party candidates this year is exactly what FitzGerald and downticket Democrats need to keep hope alive that the Cleveland underdog can come from behind to score an atypical win in a down election year.
"We are thrilled to welcome back to Ohio President Clinton, a life-long fighter for working families and one of the greatest leaders of our time," Chris Redfern, Ohio Democratic Party Chair, said Monday. "Just like President Obama, President Clinton won the state of Ohio twice, and recognizes the importance of Democrats’ success here in 2014."
Redfern said Clinton has always been a dedicated champion of the middle class and his appearance in June will pump up the campaigns of Democratic statewide candidates trying to unseat the Republicans elected in 2010 who hold them now.
Gov. Kasich likely won't comment on Clinton's visit to Ohio and what it could mean to FitzGerald's chances this year, but Democrats likely won't forget that then-Congressman Kasich, who represented Ohio's 12th District for 18 years before he stepped down to run a short, unsuccessful campaign for president in 2000, helped orchestrate the shutdown of the federal government in 1995, and voted for all four articles of impeachment against Clinton, who despite a trial in the U.S. Senate, was not only not impeached but gained lasting popularity with American voters who still take a shine to him 15 years later.
Bill Clinton's wife, Hillary, a former first lady, U.S. Senator from the State of New York and Secretary of State during President Obama's first term, is widely expected to be the favorite presidential candidate in 2016. Although Gov. Kasich has said he's no longer interested in being president, a claim few outside his inner circle believe, he showed up with hat in hand, just like a line of other GOP presidential hopefuls, to court Las Vegas billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who is looking for a different candidate—maybe a governor from a Midwestern state like Ohio—to pump millions into in order to again claim the White House for Republicans.
If Democrats can boost the turnout this year among young voters, single women and minorities, the coalition that showed its voting power in 2008 and 2012, FitzGerald just may have a chance on Gov. Kasich, who has signed bills into law that limit voting. The Ohio House tried to insert an amendment into Gov. Kasich's Mid-Biennium Review budget that if passed and not vetoed by Kasich would cut local government funds by ten percent for any county that mailed out absentee ballots to their residents. FitzGerald, with the consent of the Cuyahoga Council he lead, threatened to do just that, but the Kasich Administration scrubbed that amendment when news about it broke recently.
FitzGerald pounced on the passed-then-withdrawn amendment, chastising the lengths Republican leadership will go to prevent Ohioans from voting. "The fact is they just can't help themselves," he said in a statement. "Any opportunity to make voting more difficult for the poor, seniors, African Americans and working Ohioans is consistently and enthusiastically embraced by the Republicans in the General Assembly," he said, adding, "And their plan to now punish the residents of communities who simply want to make voting easier is not only politics at its worst, it is a direct attack on how local governments pay for police, fire and other vital services. I would say they should be ashamed of their behavior but it is clear they have no shame." FitzGerald, 45-years of age and a former FBI agent and Mayor of Lakewood, Ohio, said he would not cave in under that kind of threat.
Gov. Kasich's first campaign ad highlights his family history, work ethic and tax cutting, budget-balancing skills as well as his compassion for the less well off. But FitzGerald is having none of it, pushing out point-by-point points to debunk the narrative Kasich has used throughout his political career, which started in 1978, and includes six years as a managing director at failed Wall Street banking firm Lehman Brothers and years as a Fox News political talk show host.
Governor Kasich's team was caught scrubbing a Romney sign from a campaign photo on the governor's Website. Kasich stumped for Mitt Romney in 2012 and said the equity capital king would win Ohio. He didn't, by about 166,000 votes, and has drifted into history books as the richest person ever to run and lose the White House. Democrats called Kasich's campaign ad an attempt to rewrite history and reintroduce the incumbent Governor as leader in job growth with blue-collar roots who has the best interest of working Ohioans at heart.
The last poll performed by a nationally respected firm put Gov. Kasich, who is well known across the state, about five points ahead of FitzGerald, who is little known. But in regional matchups, Kasich and FitzGerald are within the margin of error of each other with the exception of Central Ohio, where the incumbent holds a 21-point lead over the challenger.
If turnout is up this year, Kasich has genuine worries, given he only won by 77,127 votes in 2010, when he only won 49-percent of a 49-percent voter turnout. If the coalition of voters who turned out in 2008 and 2012 turnout do not turnout this year, the mountain FitzGerald must climb may be too tall. If Bill Clinton can spark a fire that can burn bright until November, the big dog will have done his job for the underdog