Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Ohio

In 2008, Ohio broke for Obama with 51% of the vote. However, Republicans managed to sweep to victories two short years later. This year, as far as the presidential race goes, one cannot be so sure of an outcome. Ohio has sent missed signals in 2011. While they voted to overturn SB5 which restricted collective bargaining rights for public worker union employees (a “victory” for labor), they also sent a symbolic message to Obama by rejecting Obamacare. Obama’s approval rating are below the national average in the Buckeye state and his performance with independent voters is particularly troublesome. In a hypothetical match up with “generic Republican,” he loses, yet when Mitt Romney’s name is injected in there, he comes out a 5-point winner. Still, at this point, I have to call this state for the GOP.

There is also a Senate race involving incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown. He is perhaps one of the Senate’s most abrasive and unapologetic liberals. Whether that translates into reelection remains to be seen. His approval ratings in the state are not particularly high. There is no doubt that Brown will be the Democratic nominee and all the interest are on the Republican side.

Initial polls indicated that the preference of Ohio GOP voters would have been former Ohio secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell. Conservative, well-known, and well-liked, he had the added advantage of being African-American, a Republican rarity. However, citing several reasons, he decided against a run which is unfortunate because many national GOP leaders were recruiting him. Another choice that seemed like a good one would be current Lt. Governor Mary Taylor. Considered Ohio’s Sarah Palin, she would have faced some minor, local concerns such as the use of a state helicopter and the fact she does not live in Columbus. A major reason for deciding against a Senate run was that she was just starting a new job and was committed to completing her term before considering higher office.

Other names also bowed out early, particularly popular representatives Steve LaTourette and Jim Jordan. It makes sense for Jordan given his increased role in Congress and GOP leadership. Early polls indicated he would have given Brown a run for the money. That left two candidates- former state senator Kevin Coughlin and state treasurer Josh Mandel. However, in October 2011, Coughlin dropped out.

What is impressive about Mandel is his prolific fund raising abilities in a short period of time. Mandel started off at a 14-18 point disadvantage to Brown, but recent polls show him 5-8 points down. There are two reasons for this. All that money he raises buys name recognition and second, Brown’s approval rating are not that great. Considering this, the polls are reflecting a willingness to at least listen to Mandel. It may also be that Mandel is peaking too early and will not survive the vetting process that a campaign really is, especially against a well-funded rival.

Like Mourdock in Indiana, I did not start this entry as an attack on Mandel. Like Mourdock, many websites, including Redstate, have given blanket endorsements and some are having love affairs with Josh Mandel. Yes- he is young (33 years), a fiscal conservative, and an Iraqi war vet. However, before we get collective tingles up our legs, there are problems that require explanation. First, he told Ohio voters he would serve at least four years before moving on to higher office, but launched his Senate bid a mere three months into his tenure. A case can be made for striking while the iron is hot and Brown’s low numbers may be that hot iron, but Josh Mandel has accomplished exactly NOTHING. For example, in his 2010 run, he campaigned on a non-issue: divesture of pension funds from companies that did business with Iran. This is a pointless quest that Ohio voters really do not care about and is pandering to a small segment of the population. He also touts his opposition to an Ohio law addressing housing discrimination against gays and his support to strengthen laws against cockfighting in the state. At least the chickens of Ohio can support him. Democrats have already filed a complaint against him citing irregularities in campaign donations.

In 2010, he ran an ad implying his opponent was Muslim juxtaposed against images of himself in battle fatigues, a blow so low that even Republican operatives cried foul. One Ohio newspaper has highlighted a dubious $100,000 donation from a Canton businessman noting that many of the listed donors had never given a donation to anyone in the past. Why Mandel ands why now? And especially for a relative unknown in political circles. Along the way, besides raising $2.8 million in one quarter, he has received endorsements from Rob Portman, Jim Jordan, Jim DeMint, and the Club For Growth. Obviously, these people would have supported any GOP candidate given Brown’s far left views. But there are more serious concerns about Mandel starting in 2006.

In that year, it is no secret that Brown won his election to the Senate with incredible help from ACORN. Katyn Gillette worked for an offshoot of ACORN- ProjectVote. She noted that DeWine’s base of donors matched that of Brown, but would be able to raise money from other donors like Forest City. They are a real estate enterprise based in Cleveland run by the notorious James Ratner. They coincidentally loaned ACORN $1.5 million to assist in Brown’s campaign. This may explain Mandel’s fund raising abilities because there are unsubstantiated (as of yet) that Mandel married a Ratner. In fact, in 2008, Albert Ratner, one of the leaders of Forest City, donated $17,000 to Mandel. And although Mandel may be a baby-faced, photogenic, Iraqi war veteran, he hails from a wealthy family that was targeted by the Brown campaign in 2006 for donations by ACORN operatives. Making matters worse, the Mandels of Ohio have been donating to the likes of Bill Richardson, Ted Strickland, Joe Lieberman, Frank Lautenberg, Allyson Schwartz, and Shelley Berkely. Hmmmm….

Finally, there is now viral video of Mandel at an Ohio State rally hooting and hollering for presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000. And while a student there, he was president of the Undergraduate Student Government that demanded equal rights at the university for same-sex couples. At a minimum, he will have to explain when and why his conservative epiphany occurred and why it is so at odds with his family’s well-connected, wealthy, Democratic/liberal family. In effect, he is an empty suit espousing conservative dogma when his history indicates he is anything but that. Throw in some dubious fund raising and political opportunism and he has created plenty of fodder for Democratic attacks. In fact, his past seems suspiciously like an alleged constitutional scholar and former community activist from Chicago- an empty suit, if you will- who duped the American public into making him President.

Ohio loses two House seats in 2013 and drop from 18 to 16 seats. The current Congressional delegation is 13-5 Republican after the 2010 GOP wave. Of the new 16 districts, seven are easy: Steve Chabot(R) in the 1st, Jean Schmidt (R) in the 2nd, Bob Latta (R) in the 5th, Pat Tiberi (R) in the 12th, Tim Ryan (D) in the 13th, Steve LaTourette (R) in the 14th, and Steve Stivers (R) in the 15th.

The 3rd District will be based in Columbus and features a crowded Democratic field although Mary Jo Kilroy, who formerly represented the 15th District, should prevail and win the general election. In the 4th, Republican Jim Jordan will win reelection. However, he is at odds with John Boehner over the debt ceiling fight and relations are strained. In the 6th, Republican Bill Johnson will run for reelection. After John Boccieri dropped out of consideration, Charlie Wilson entered for the Democrats. This race bears watching.

In the 7th, Republican Bob Gibbs, formerly of the 18th, will run against either Joyce Healy-Abrams or Dawn Howard. Betty Sutton opted out of this district’s race. She may have been the stronger candidate to unseat Gibbs, but that will not happen now. The 8th is John Boehner’s and is interesting only because he faces a primary challenge from Tea Party activist David Lewis. The plot thickens in the 9th where Marcy Kaptur will face fellow Democrat and Lilliputian Dennis Kucinich is a battle of liberals for the nomination with the winner prvailing in the general election. In the 10th, Republican Mike Turner has a clear path to the nomination (he was formerly in the 3rd) now that fellow Republican incumbent Steve Austria has announced his retirement rather than a primary fight. Of course, he had some rather terse words for John Boehner whom he accuses of having a hand in redistricting. In the 11th, Marcia Fudge will likely win although it could be interesting if Nina Turner runs as an independent. She is considered an up and coming star in Ohio Democratic circles. And in what could be the political heavyweight battle in Ohio politics in 2012, GOP incumbent Jim Renacci will take on Democratic incumbent Betty Sutton. The labor subplot is also interesting; Sutton is a former union lawyer and Renacci is a millionaire. Expect some talk about the 99% versus the 1%. Whoever wins this race will be an indicator of the direction of the political winds in Ohio in the upcoming decade.

In the final analysis, just as Illinois need not be the great Republican apocalypse many predict, Ohio need not be the great Democratic apocalypse. once again, to the victor goes the spoils and that cuts both ways. At the end of the day, new congressional delegation will be 12-4 Republican, a loss of one seat on either side; hence, no net change. Brown will win reelection over Mandel. And Mitt Romney will take their 18 electoral votes.

Running totals thus far:
Obama with 145 electoral votes to 194 for GOP nominee;
Net gain of 2 Governors;
Net gain of 4 Senate seats, and;
Net loss of 7 House seats.

Next: West Virginia