Ohio political parties look ahead to next year and beyond
If there was one word to describe Ohio Party Chairman Chris Redfern on Election night, it would be “angry.”
Redfern lambasted Statehouse reporters and the newspapers that employ them for pulling web versions of stories and videos that were not flattering to Republicans. And he lashed out for what he saw as a media obsession on the bombshell revelation that came out around Labor Day that Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald had been driving for most of a decade without a valid driver’s license.
“The fact of the matter is I am left with 4 or 5 newspapers in this state to get the message out,” Redfern said. “That’s what I’m left with. Those are the cards I’m dealt.”
To be fair, it was not a good night for Redfern and his party. The voter turnout was just over 40% and most who showed up voted Republican. The Democrats lost in every bid for statewide office and lost many key legislative and congressional races. Reporters asked whether Redfern felt he should step down in light of such a poor result.
“Let me tell you something,” Redfern said. “There are 400,000 new people to the poverty rolls, not the unemployment rolls. We rank 45th in the country in economic development. We are going to be asking questions like that. No wonder nobody comes out and votes.”
But just a couple of hours after talking to reporters in Columbus, Redfern issued a statement saying he would resign.
But who would take the party over? A few weeks later, two of those losing statewide candidates ended up being elected to take charge. David Pepper, the candidate who failed to win the 2014 Attorney General race and the 2010 Auditor’s race, was elected as party chairman. Pepper is a former Cincinnati council member and Hamilton County commissioner.
State Senator Nina Turner, who lost her bid for Secretary of State in November, will work with Pepper in a leadership role but her position has not yet been clearly defined. Both Turner and Pepper say want to change the way the party deals with its voters. Pepper says it is going to focus more on the grass roots level at off election times.
“We have all of these positions – precinct committee members and all of these other positions- and too often those positions are on paper or people come to a meeting and vote,” Pepper said. “But in the olden days, all of those jobs used to work the precinct. They get to know their neighbors. They talk to them long before the campaign started so people knew who they were. And what we are going to do is try to activate that again so we have a working infrastructure.”
For her part, Turner says she’s excited about the new challenge.
“Pepper and I have been forging a partnership all along and to grow and to lead this party together is the best thing,” Turner said. “It will strengthen this party. And we are going to build on the successes this party has had.”
Pepper and Turner say they’ll focus on issues that have always been embraced by Democratic voters – policies that they say help workers and students. They say 2015 will be the start of a more organized, streamlined message to define the party’s core values.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Republican Party, which has seen plenty of success this year, plans to continue its game plan. But spokesman Chris Schrimpf said the will look back at what made it successful in 2014 as it plans for 2016.
“The most important thing is to review what worked and didn’t work in 2014,” Schrimpf said. “We will have to get all over the voter information from the Secretary of State. We will see who voted and how our messages worked with them. And that would be the foundation for 2016. It’s already time to get ready for the Senate races, Congressional races and of course the Presidential race.”
The Republican Party won all statewide offices and strengthened its majorities in the Ohio House and Senate. In fact, Republicans now have enough of a majority in both chambers that the party will have an advantage in close votes.
But Ohio has voted twice for President Obama and re-elected US Sen.Sherrod Brown in 2012, so Republicans know they have work to do in 2016, when a president and a US Senator will again be on the Ohio ballot.