Campaign filings raise more questions

Published 10:10 am Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The race for control of Ohio’s state government in 2010 felt more like a good soap opera than a thrilling whodunit as early campaign filings rolled in Friday.

There were more juicy questions than empirical answers. Among issues that remain to be seen:

— Can Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, who has amassed a $4 million campaign fund, continue his strong fund-raising now that he has signed an operating budget that made so many people angry? Or will challenger John Kasich — with $516,000 raised so far — succeed in summoning the state’s traditionally strong Republican financial resources in his favor?

—Could Democrats already be at risk of losing control of the secretary of state’s office — just four years after ousting Ken Blackwell, a favorite national target of anti-Bush liberals? So far, state Sen. Jon Husted has nearly $1.3 million in the bank compared to $181,000 for Franklin County Commissioner Marilyn Brown. A Democratic fight for the seat took shape Monday, when state Rep. Jennifer Garrison announced she’ll also run.

— Are would-be supporters of Auditor Mary Taylor, the GOP’s only statewide officeholder outside the Ohio Supreme Court, really upset that she’s been too partisan, as Democrats suggested when they saw her modest showing compared to challenger David Pepper? Or is her campaign just getting off to a slow start? Pepper, a Cincinnati Democrat, raised $317,000 compared to Taylor’s $108,000.

— Can Republican state Rep. Josh Mandel, an ambitious, energetic young Marine, beat Democratic Treasurer Kevin Boyce — the Ohio Democrats’ first and only statewide black candidate — just one election cycle after America elected Barack Obama? Mandel raised $978,000 to Boyce’s $511,000.

— And what about Mike DeWine? So far, the former U.S. senator’s ability to out-raise and out-campaign Democratic Attorney General Richard Cordray is untested. DeWine, a Republican, announced his candidacy after the end of the fundraising period that just ended, leaving him with just $39,500 in the bank compared to Cordray’s $2 million.

Both DeWine and Kasich are viewed as heavy hitters representing the GOP’s best chance of knocking the powerful Democrats out of power. Friday’s reports left viewers to ‘‘tune in tomorrow’’ for the proof.

Tom Wiseman, who teaches political science at Bowling Green State University, said 2010 is shaping up a challenging year for incumbents.

He said Strickland’s fundraising may reflect admiration or support among the governor’s backers for the budget decisions that angered others, such as his decision not to support a tax increase to fund social programs and his reversal on gambling in the form of racetrack slots. But his early fundraising prowess also could wane in the coming months.

‘‘Certainly numbers matter and dollar signs matter, and it’s never too early to amass your funding and coordinate your organization,’’ he said. ‘‘But the bottom line is simply that the public is kind of scratching their head out there, they’re looking for some answers.’’

Wiseman believes the fact that a Republican is leading the money race for secretary of state, where Democrat Jennifer Brunner is stepping aside to run for U.S. Senate, may signal the desire for the public to see change. The pattern also held, at least in these very early donation totals, for Mandel outraising Boyce and Pepper outraising Taylor.

‘‘It’s a tough time to be an elected official, and a tough time to be in state government in general,’’ he said. ‘‘Doing the day-to-day business of the people in these hard economic times, these incumbents have to make tough decisions.’’

But it’s early, Wiseman emphasizes. Much can change in the world of politics in a year. Every public poll, every campaign finance report is a piece of evidence that prognosticators will hang on for a day or a week.

The mystery gets solved on Election Day.

Julie Carr Smyth is a correspondent for the Ohio Associated Press.