Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Ohio 2006: History and the Current Environment

In commenting on US Rep Ted Strickland's (D-OH) decision not to run for Ohio governor in 2006, the Dayton Daily News summed up the statewide political environment in Ohio pretty well:

After a decade and a half of Republican dominance of Ohio, even Republicans like U.S. Sens. George Voinovich and Mike De-Wine view the state's condition with alarm. And now the cash-strapped government is faced with difficult, unpopular choices. So conventional wisdom holds that in '06, the "it's-time-for-a-change" cry should be powerful.

The state government will be up for grabs. Gov. Bob Taft is term-limited. Attorney General Jim Petro, Auditor Betty Montgomery and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell plan to leave their jobs to run for governor. (Secretary Blackwell has to move because he, too, is term-limited.)

For more than a decade, Republicans have functioned as a team. Ambitious GOP politicians have meekly accepted election assignments. But now they all want to be governor. That's another reason the Democrats have a special opportunity. But do they have the candidates?

There are several key points in the above that bear repeating:

1. Under Robert Bennett's leadership as chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, Ohio Republican's have come to dominate state politics.

When Bennett began in 1988, Republicans held no statewide executive offices, were a minority party in the Ohio House, and held a slim majority in the Ohio Senate. By 1994, Republicans held all statewide executive offices and were the majority party in the Ohio House and Senate. They have maintained control ever since. It was a remarkable turnaround.

2. Ohio's economy has lagged that of the rest of the nation significantly over the last 10 years.

According an analysis of Ohio's economy over the last 10 years (available only in the Columbus Dispatch archives), when compared to the percentage improvement in other states, Ohio was ranked #49 in total job creation, #49 in unemployment rate, #39 in per capita income, #49 in gross state product per job, #43 in bankruptcies, and #28 in college graduates.

Bush was able to focus on other issues in 2004. But Ohio Republicans will have to answer the inevitable questions that will come.

3. Ohio Republicans have "waited their turn" for state offices, avoiding contested primaries. That is about to change.

In the past, Bennett has been able to juggle Republicans across multiple statewide offices, giving them all a piece of the pie. In 1998, Bob Taft got the biggest piece - an uncontested Republican gubernatorial primary and eventual governorship. Taft has had a very mediocre 2 terms in office, and now Ohio Republicans will be in a vulnerable position in 2006.

In 2006, the Republicans have stopped playing nice. Three Republicans - Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, Auditor Betty Montegomery, and Attorney General Jim Petro - have all announced that their intentions to seek the Republican nomination. And they are each already staking out their positions.

Over the next several days, I will continue to provide more insight into the Republican and Democratic candidates, but the bottom line is clear.

This will be no cakewalk for either party.