If the Democrats and their front-runner candidate Ed FitzGerald, from Cleveland, continue to stumble should his second pick for running mate not be unimpeachable, or if an intra-party person like Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, who has tossed his name into the hopper for governor, decides competition is what's needed to force Team FitzGerald to shape up or ship out, the result, if not the exact vote count for the 2014 General Election, may already be a foregone conclusion.
With just 35 days left until the February 5th deadline arrives for candidates to file their official papers, is this an opportune or inopportune time for the 55-year old Portune, regarded as left of center on social issues and a fiscal conservative, to shake up the race for governor in November?
"I am entering this because I feel a real sense of responsibility,” Portune recently told his hometown newspaper, The Cincinnati Enquirer. "There needs to be a choice."
At a Cincinnati event where he was accompanied by about two dozen supporters, Portune, who has represented Southwest Ohio for 20 years, first as a Cincinnati City Councilman, then beginning in 2000 as a Hamilton County Commissioner, said he and others know there are disturbances in the Democratic force coming from inner circles.
FitzGerald, a former FBI special agent and Mayor of Lakewood who was elected the first Cuyahoga County Executive, has a mountain to climb, which was made even steeper when he tripped over the starting line in the debacle that ended this fall three weeks after his choice for Lt. Governor running mate withdrew following an avalanche of stories about the federal and state tax debts he and his wife accumulated over many years of running a publishing company whose newspaper focused on the African-American community in southwestern Ohio.
Saying he's had enough conversations to learn there appears to be "an appetite to have a choice in the May primary," Portune also acknowledged that entering the race as a competitor to FitzGerald would cause problems for Democrats, who prefer not to have a contested primary to avoid a costly battle that will only bring smiles to the faces of Gov. Kasich and his allied campaign forces.
"It would not be fair to say I have been everywhere I need to go and talked to everyone I needed to talk to," he told the Enquirer, "But I had enough conversations... to know what I perceived was being felt. That is what I needed to hear."
Portune said he’s heard the argument that a primary will hurt the Democratic Party. But he said the primary campaign doesn’t have to be negative; outrageous sums of money don’t need to be spent.
A problem for Portune, whose reputation as County Commissioner is generally considered favorable, is that both the Ohio Democratic Party [ODP] and Hamilton County Democratic Party have endorsed FitzGerald. But FitzGerald is widely unknown outside his home region. But even with Ohioans not really knowing who he is, recent polls show him in a tight race with Gov. Kasich if Charlie Earl, a Libertarian Party candidate for governor, is factored into the mix.
FitzGerald gained on Kasich, according to a November Quinnipiac University poll that found Kasich leading FitzGerald 44 to 37 percent, which was an improvement over an earlier poll in June that showed him trailing the former 18-year congressman and Fox TV political talk show host 47-33 percent. But Quinnipiac didn't factor in Earl's candidacy.
In other polls paid for by the Ohio Democratic Party and performed by the well-respected and accurate Public Policy Polling, Kasich was either trailing FitzGerald or within the margin of error if Earl was included in the survey.
Portune said he'll spend this month traveling the state to gauge support for his candidacy. If there doesn’t seem to be enough support, he said, he won’t run. "I won’t file just to be on the ballot," he told a reporter.
Meanwhile, even though Gov. Kasich won't want for campaign cash or third-party groups to carry his now familiar message of balancing a budget $8 billion dollars out of alignment and reducing income taxes at the same time, he has managed in his three years on the job to alienate Tea Party forces who rallied behind him in 2010 but who have turned against him now to the point where one of their own, Clermont County tea party activist Ted Stevenot, is mounting a campaign to take on Kasich in the Republican primary.
In 2010, the year Ohio Tea Party activists helped Republicans like Kasich, Mandel, DeWine, Yost and Husted sweep Democrats from the statewide offices they won in 2006. His margin of victory, 77,127 votes statewide, was the result of winning only 49 percent of votes from a voter turnout of only 49 percent. His win represented only 23.5 percent of registered voters, a weak showing by any standard.
Portune is credited with work that made The Banks, a dramatic, multi-billion dollar Ohio riverfront revitalization project that includes major league football and baseball stadiums possible. A once unsightly part of Cincinnati's riverfront along the Ohio river, The Banks is a growing area populated with businesses and living quarters.
Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, commented on Kasich's improved showing. "Ohio Gov. John Kasich enters his reelection year with only a 7-point lead over a largely unknown challenger [FitzGerald]. On the plus side, his approval ratings mark a huge turnaround from his first two years, when his job approval was in the 30s and Democrats were licking their chops at the prospect of making him a one-termer."
Some governor's race watchers, who note that a big majority of votes in the Democratic primary are going to come from northern Ohio, where FitzGerald is very well-known and Democrats can win big with voters, would advise Portune to be Fitzgerald's running mate.
Others think ODP should pull its endorsement of Fitzgerald and ask its executive committee to reconsider its choice.
Whatever happens, the February 5th filing deadline is only weeks away and Democrats will have to make a decision, one way or another, about which David they will send to slay the GOP's Goliath governor.
FitzGerald's labors are already tough enough, but at least one newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, has already endorsed Gov. Kasich without officially endorsing him through crippling editorials that labeled FitzGerald as incompetent.
It's virtually impossible to imagine a shrinking legacy news giant like the Dispatch reversing its already jaundiced view of FitzGerald no matter what the candidate or his campaign does in the next 10 months to change the conversation about why Ohio remains near the bottom of states in job creation despite three years of unctuous public relations from Team Kasich about the great job it's doing even though labor and job data tracking proves otherwise.
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The article Challenging Ed FitzGerald for Ohio gov: Is it opPortune or inopPortune for Todd? appeared first on Columbus Government Examiner.