First things first. I’m terrible at predicting election results, not gonna deny it. “If Jennifer Brunner files, she wins,” is a line I must have written a dozen times leading up to the US Senate primary. I was wrong. I was banking on Jennifer catching fire online, and she didn’t. One good week of online fundraising might have won her the primary.
Failing to do so is the Brunner campaign’s biggest self-inflicted wound – they left a lot of money on the table, and let a lot of us down. I still have no good answer for this failure, and if Jennifer hopes to run again statewide, money cannot ever be this big of a problem again.
Which brings us to Lee Fisher, who cost Ted Strickland re-election, who should join Rob Burch in never running statewide for anything ever again, period. Incredibly, after his concession, Lee was doing the rounds of every single camera he could find in the ballroom at the ODP election night party (except of course, ours), as if more self-aggrandizement was just what the doctor ordered.
Our readers should know that on primary day, Plunderbund invited Lee Fisher to talk to us during our election night livestream. He declined. Less than a week after the primary, we extended a standing invitation through the ODP communications shop to have Lee on a separate program, again livestreaming, for the purpose of clearing the deck and moving on. As the loudest advocates for Jennifer Brunner, all of us at Plunderbund, myself included, recognized the urgency of uniting for the general election. We got our top demand – ODP did not endorse Lee in the primary, so we had our shot.
We lost. We wanted to move on and so we reached out. Repeatedly.
We never heard back from Lee Fisher. In fact, no one on this blog has even spoken with Lee Fisher since the primary, not because we weren’t available, but because Lee never tried to bring his primary opponent’s loudest supporters on board. Not once.
Poetically, having spent nearly two solid years running on inevitability and fundraising ability, Lee Fisher’s big final penniless push was a cheap imitation of the Brunner campaign that Lee dismissed as cute. A 27 hour bus tour, his wife spamming Twitter with the wrong URL over a comically sad web video, a viscerally inauthentic grab at Lebron James resentment predictably shot by his own kid, all while he finally paid what he owed into the ODP coordinated campaign, this too in the final week, generating headlines exclaiming that he’s given up. True poetry.
From day one, which featured Lee Fisher fighting like grim death for the right to claim he announced for US Senate first, Lee Fisher’s 2010 US Senate campaign was a running Keystone Kops disaster, in plain sight. We’ve heard that at least 31 staff have quit Lee’s campaign since it began – a pattern that has been known to be likely since at least 2006. We watched Lee run on Rush Limbaugh’s messaging against a fellow Democrat. We watched Lee try to play hardball and fail in the Wood County endorsement saga. We watched Lee fail to get his own ward club’s endorsement. We saw Lee fail to get his own county party endorsement, even as he paid for robocalls to county party executive committees. and paid county “coordinators” then disappeared on them.
As this all unfolded, documented online in real time for anyone to see, large numbers of ODP glitterati, from party activists, to consultants, to fundraisers, to law firms, to labor, to comitteepeople and elected officials, looked at this slow motion train wreck and still, with total knowledge of Lee’s ineptitude, decided to knee cap Jennifer Brunner to help Lee Fisher. Lee claimed he had the vast majority of the ODP executive committee prepared to endorse him, even as 74,000 emails from Brunner supporters begged them not to. They, and everyone in their circle of influence, had already done the damage to Brunner on the down low.
Establishment Democrats at the very top of our party were hell bent on preserving Lee Fisher for Rob Portman to destroy. DSCC chair Bob Menendez was quite explicit in his threats to Jennifer Brunner. The crowning glory was the total abdication by EMILY’s List of their entire reason for being, abandoning a progressive woman statewide office holder in favor of a male establishment pillar built on sand who they must have known was about to collapse. It’s hard to imagine a more effective way of destroying your organization’s credibility, and EMILY’s List did that for Lee Fisher.
Then, they all went away. Every one of the people who made threats of lost state business, who acquiesced to those threats, thus stifling Jennifer Brunner’s fundraising, was nowhere to be found as Lee Fisher literally vanished during the summer, then in a last ditch effort to apparently entertain himself, spiraled into self-parody.
What was Lee’s effect on the rest of the ticket? Fatal. My, how we can count the ways….but one stands out. Blindingly so.
When Lee Fisher demanded and received the double-dip title of “jobs czar”, neither he nor Ted Strickland probably expected the entire world economy to collapse in 2008. Well, it did. At that point, it should have been clear to every Democrat in Ohio, or Washington DC, that Lee’s presence at the top of the ODP ticket in 2010 would make every Rob Portman “jobs” attack a double dip, too – those ads would hit Ted Strickland just as hard as they hit Lee Fisher.
Wasted breath. Not only did this come to pass precisely as predicted, Lee made it exponentially worse with his disappearing act. Lee Fisher became the second ODP-crowned inevitable since Rob Burch in 1994 to then immediately vanish into oblivion. Lee spent the entire primary crowing about his fundraising, every single chance he got. Money and the ability to raise it was Lee Fisher’s entire rationale for his candidacy. His primary supporters cited fundraising exclusively as their reason to support him over Brunner, because there was not one single other reason. They cannot deny it, we all heard it from their own mouths.
Lee then proceeded to raise enough money since the primary to air literally two television ads for a cumulative total of about a week of TV. Two ads – ending shamelessly by claiming this new found thrift by necessity as some kind of badge of honor. All while a million-dollar barrage of “jobs” attack ads came from Rob Portman, unanswered, all summer and fall. Lee’s inevitability money argument, and its subsequent, immediate non-existence, might be the most flip-floppinest flip flop in the history of flops.
That left Ted Strickland alone running against both Kasich and Portman, with no hope of help from Lee. The result was an insurmountable Kasich lead which Rob Portman helped pad, every single day, unopposed.
Lee Fisher, quite simply, cost Ted Strickland re-election. It isn’t a stretch, it isn’t speculation, no, it’s a hard, provable, fact.
Ohio Democrats are now in the incredibly difficult position of having to re-elect Barack Obama in 2012 without holding a single state office, with Sherrod Brown having to fight for re-election at the same time. We have to create from scratch, again, the massive grassroots operation that in 2010, as great as it was, simply could not overcome the fact that Lee Fisher was never told, “no.”
ODP, incredibly, has unlearned the lesson of 1994. The candidacy of Lee Fisher for US Senate in 2010 does not merely echo the Rob Burch catastrophe in 1994. Lee Fisher’s candidacy IS the Rob Burch fiasco, because ODP’s establishment created both, affirmatively and almost exactly, with a precision that would have to be respected if it weren’t so destructive. Sixteen years later, even some of the players are still the same, making the same stupid decisions, which ironically includes Lee himself, who to this day probably still blames Rob Burch for his own loss in 1994.
It isn’t any one person’s fault. It’s a groupthink among a small number of highly placed apparatchiks who are hard wired to play politics as usual even in the face of all logic. Chris Redfern couldn’t have stopped this groupthink if he wanted to. But he should have tried, and so should have Ted Strickland, Armand Budish, Richard Cordray, Tim Ryan, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, every former state chair, every county chair, and every elected official or committee person in ODP. Survival demanded it.
They chose not to. That choice is theirs alone. And they did not survive.
This stubborn, mule-headed addiction to politics as usual in the ODP is a cancer. It has to stop. Until ODP is able to end the brain dead inertia that leads to this Rob Burch/Lee Fisher self-destructive pattern of electing Republicans, Ohio Democrats at the grassroots will have to accelerate efforts to try to do it for them. The internet, not much around in 1994, allowed us in 2010 to document this moronic inertia as it happened. Online activism makes our job infinitely easier.
But no matter how loud the warning, how closely we document the obvious, this ODP inertia did not yield this time, either. And it won’t, unless we force it.
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