The past week hasn’t been kind to Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the Democrat running for Ohio Governor. He answered some uncomfortable questions about incidents that have surfaced in various news reports, but hasn’t responded to more questions that have come up. His problems are raising questions about what, if anything, this will mean to other Democrats running for statewide office.
On Friday, FitzGerald tried to explain why he was discovered in a parked car in a Cleveland area parking lot with a woman who was not his wife in the wee hours of a morning in 2012. And since that time, more questions have surfaced. Records from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles show FitzGerald didn’t have a regular Ohio driver’s license for about a decade. He admits, through his spokeswoman, that he did drive illegally within that period of time and he has apologized for it. Add to that the fact that Incumbent Republican Governor John Kasich has raised about four times as much money as FitzGerald. But the question that is driving many political observers right now is how FitzGerald’s problems will play out in the coming months. John Green, the Director of the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute, says FitzGerald’s problems could impact the other Democrats running for statewide office this fall.
“The top of the ticket, the gubernatorial candidate for the Republican or Democratic party tends to set the pace for turnout and support for the candidates on that side of the aisle. So a weaker candidate at the top generally means lower turnout and fewer votes down ticket.”
FitzGerald spokeswoman Lauren Hitt says FitzGerald is not considering leaving the race at this point. It would be almost unprecedented if he actually did decide to do that. Tom Suddes, a long time Statehouse reporter and pundit who often serves as the expert on political history for the Statehouse press corps, says it’s been more than 100 years since the last time a gubernatorial candidate stepped down this late in the race.
“The Republican nominee for Governor, chosen by a convention, not by a primary then, dropped out and the party nominated a substitute candidate,” says Suddes.
That substitute candidate was not successful and Democrat James Cox went on to win that election. In this case, even if FitzGerald wanted to step down, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office says it would be hard to do that. Matt McClelland says FitzGerald would have had to drop out by August 5th in order for the party to be able to appoint someone else to run in his place. John Green says while it’s been a tough week for Ed FitzGerald, there’s no reason to believe he can’t rebound.
“There is a tendency, when you have a challenger that runs into a rough patch, bad week, for people to get very concerned, particularly in that person’s party and to over-react. Certainly, there have been candidates with these kinds of problems in the past that have come back to be very competitive so, speaking as a political scientist, I think it’s a little early to count Mr. FitzGerald out.”
Early voting begins in Ohio in two months – on October 7.