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Will Ohio's Democratic ground game work in 2014?


Ohio Democrats were feeling pretty good Wednesday morning, once the votes had been tallied Tuesday night.

They managed to edge out a win in the Buckeye State for President Obama – 50.18 percent of the unofficial vote count for Obama, 48.18 percent for Mitt Romney.

And they managed to get Ohio’s Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown, re-elected over Republican challenger Josh Mandel, despite an avalanche of Super PAC money blanketing the state with TV ads trying to tear Brown down.

Not bad, after a 2010 election in which the Democrats lost every statewide office from governor on down; and the Republicans came out in control of both houses of the Ohio General Assembly.

So, at Ohio Democratic Party headquarters, they were in the mood to crow a bit.

“Following a bruising 2010 cycle, the results of our efforts are incredibly clear,’’ Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern said in a written statement. “The Ohio Democratic Party is back; and anyone that stands in the way of progress, including Governor John Kasich, is on notice.”

“On notice,’’ the man said. Tough talk.

But, wait, there’s more.

“Our victories proved that the Ohio Democratic Party is back, that we are strong, that we are united, and that we have the momentum,’’ Redfern said. “And this momentum will carry us to victory once more just two years from now in the critical 2014 elections.”

2014? We’re talking about that already?

Of course, we are. That’s the way politics works in the 21st century – end an election cycle one day and start a new one the next day.

And there will be a lot at stake in 2014. Presumably, Kasich, the Republican governor, will run for re-election; and every other statewide constitutional office will be up for grabs too – with Republicans running as incumbents.

The Democrats have no shortage of potential candidates for governor – former governor Ted Strickland, who was taken out by Kasich in the 2010 Ohio GOP tsunami; former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray, who now heads the Obama administration’s Consumer Financial Protection Agency; U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald among them. 

Having a proven ground organization, highly skilled at getting out the vote, would be an enormous advantage for either party in 2014.

Democrats had a pretty good one in this election, although it was by no means a clean sweep.

The Democrats made no gains in the state legislature, which is still under the control of Republicans; and, of the 16 member Ohio delegation to the U.S. House that will take office in January, only four are Democrats.

“It was a lonely victory for the Democrats in Ohio,’’ Ohio Republican Party chairman Bob Bennett told WVXU. “Yes, they won the U.S. Senate race; they won the presidential race. But what else did they do? Nothing.”

Redfern, in his press release, touted the get-out-the-vote operation that the Ohio Democratic Party, Obama’s Organizing for America and their allies put together for the 2012 campaign in Ohio – 20,000 volunteers across the state, 33 million pieces of mail sent to voters, 2.7 million conversations with voters, either on the phone or at their front doors.

Very impressive, but it probably would not have happened had it not been for the fact that President Obama’s political arm, Organizing for America, had been on the ground in Ohio and other key battleground states since the 2008 election.

It was an Obama ground operation that never went away. It was there last year, when Organizing for America teamed up with organized labor in a successful effort to repeal Senate Bill 5, the GOP legislation that would have limited the collective bargaining rights of public employees. The campaign on that referendum was a good dry run for the Obama team and its allies, priming the pump for the 2012 campaign, where turning out voters was the key.

Even Bennett tips his hat to the Obama organization.

“I give the Obama team a lot of credit for their ground game,’’ Bennett said. “They had been here for the past four years. And Sherrod Brown took advantage of it.”

If Romney had won Ohio by three percentage points, Bennett said, “Josh (Mandel) would probably have won that Senate seat.”

But, instead, Romney lost Ohio by two percentage points.

And you can thank the Obama ground organization for that.

Will that vaunted organization – or at least the thousands of Ohioans who made it work - still be in place two years from now – now that Barack Obama has run his last political campaign?

The Ohio Democratic Party is betting “yes.” The Ohio Republican Party doubts it.

The race for Ohio in 2014 starts now.