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Commentary: Among Ohio Democrats, Will Little Fish Carry The Big Fish?

John Minchillo
Associated Press
Aftab Pureval, the Democratic challenger in Ohio's 1st Congressional District, is running to unseat Rep. Steve Chabot.

This is how it usually works in a gubernatorial or U.S. Senate election in Ohio: The candidate for governor or U.S. Senator who racks up a huge margin of victory usually helps lift up the down-ticket statewide candidates of his party.

(And I do mean his, since neither the Republicans nor Democrats in Ohio have seen fit yet to nominate a woman for one of those offices).

That candidate at the top of the ticket can also carry with him members of the U.S. House, the Ohio General Assembly and a host of county offices.

Look at Democrat Dick Celeste when he won re-election as governor by a huge margin in 1986 – and brought all the other statewide constitutional offices with him.

Look more recently at 2014, when Republican Gov. John Kasich won a smashing re-election victory – albeit over a Democrat in Ed FitzGerald, who may well have been the worst candidate for governor in the 215-year history of the Buckeye State. The GOP won all the state offices: secretary of state, attorney general, state auditor, state treasurer.

They probably won the race for dogcatcher in Pickaway County, too.

Will this sort of thing happen to either the Ohio Democratic Party or Ohio Republican Party in 2018? Don't count on it.

The governor's race is going to be between Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine, with Constance Gadell-Newton as the Green Party candidate. DeWine and Cordray are both fine fellows, but dripping with charisma they are not. And in a state that is pretty evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, control of state government has a tendency to shift every decade or so.

If I were a candidate for the Ohio Senate and I were counting on either Mike DeWine or Richard Cordray to rack up enough votes to carry me into office, I might be a bit concerned.

This is something that David Pepper, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, has thought about – a lot.

"This is the first election in a very long time where the Democratic Party is fielding a candidate in every race for the Ohio House, the Ohio Senate, and the U.S. House,'' Pepper said. "No Republican is getting a free ride."

Pepper said he believes his party has created a new paradigm for elections this year, one in which the little fish carry the big fish. Pepper said the Democrats are running candidates in every single Ohio legislative district and Congressional district this fall.

"All of these local candidates are well-known in their communities; they are going to be competitive,'' Pepper said. "Look at Hamilton County. You know that Aftab Pureval is going to draw out droves of Democratic voters."  

Pureval, a young, charismatic, progressive Democrat, is taking on long-time Republican incumbent Rep. Steve Chabot in the 1st Congressional District, which includes most of western and northern Hamilton County and all of Warren County.

Republican Party leaders, though, are looking at the turnout in the May 8 primary election and feeling pretty good about the fall campaign. About 20 percent more Republicans showed on May 8 than did Democrats.

Blaine Kelly, the Ohio Republican Party's spokesman, told Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow it is actually the Republicans who are seeing enthusiasmfrom voters. Kelly told Chow they plan to harness the enthusiasm from the primary contests and reach out to "disaffected" Democrats and independents.

"Enthusiasm" doesn't begin to describe the gubernatorial primary between DeWine and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. "Steel-cage death match" might be closer to the mark.

Probably the most irrelevant, useless and just plain silly conversations that take place in political circles after every partisan primary election is about which party turned out the most voters on primary day. There is an assumption – an absolutely unwarranted assumption, in my humble opinion – that a political party's turnout is the sign of what is to come in the November election.

The political equivalent of reading goat entrails for a glimpse of the future. Sorry to burst your bubble out there, you political shaman, but it doesn't work that way.

Still, the political parties pick over the tea leaves after every primary, drawing conclusions that occasionally turn out to be correct and just as often turn out to be buncombe.

This year, instead of the candidates at the top of the ticket dragging others of their party over the finish line, Cordray and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown – locked in a tough race with Republican Rep. Jim Renacci, could benefit from the down-ticket candidates.

The world of politics turned upside-down.

“Politically Speaking” is WVXU reporter Howard Wilkinson’s weekly column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us. Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.