COLUMBUS — The way Democrats figure it, they borrowed about 500,000 voters in bellwether Ohio last year and ended more than a decade of statewide political frustration. Now they seek a more durable relationship in time for the 2008 presidential election.
Their salesman of choice?
That would be Gov. Ted Strickland and the face of an attempt to remake the party in his own soothing, centrist image.
As governor, he said in an interview in his statehouse office, “We’ve tried to avoid being overly partisan.” As party builder, he said he wants to focus on “what I call the kitchen table issues … the basic issues that are important to a family’s quality of life.”
Strickland’s first budget passed with only one dissenting vote in the Republican-controlled legislature. It included a property tax cut for seniors and the disabled as well as more money for higher education. It also provided health insurance for children living in families with up to about $62,000 in income — a bipartisan accomplishment that stands in contrast to the veto struggle now unfolding in Washington over the same issue.
No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio, and President Bush sealed his second term with a statewide victory of 118,601 votes. Two years later, an estimated 563,000 Ohioans who supported Bush backed Strickland for governor, and 442,000 of the president’s voters helped Sherrod Brown topple Republican Sen. Mike DeWine.
Already, the party has sent out thousands of pieces of mail bearing Strickand’s picture, urging likely Democratic voters to seek absentee ballots for 2007 municipal elections.
“The governor is re-establishing the state Democratic Party,” conceded Rep. Pat Tiberi, a former leader of the Legislature elected to Congress in 2000. Referring to former Republican Gov. Bob Taft’s plunge from political grace — the state Supreme Court reprimanded him over ethics violations — Tiberi pointedly noted that a governor’s popularity can erode quickly.
Besides, he said, “The unanswered question on the Democratic side is, ‘Does Ted Strickland’s moderate attraction for Independents as a pro-gun minister from southeast Ohio flip over to the presidential candidate’?”