In the last few years, I’ve really warmed to Ted Strickland, like everyone does.  I’m really saddened by his defeat, and I wish him and Frances nothing but the best.  However, Ted has to be handed some serious responsibility for his loss, and consequently, the loss of every statewide office in the state.  So what’s that responsibility?

Ted ran a great campaign, no doubt, in an impossible environment.  You can quibble with a few decisions here and there, but overall, it was beyond professional – any statewide candidate, anywhere, would kill to have that operation.  The problem, as has always been my criticism of Ted, is that it was almost entirely tactical, as was the rationale for Ted’s election in the first place, as has been Ted’s stewardship of ODP.

The Strickland/Redfern addiction to tactical politics aggravated Democrats’ biggest problem, which as always, is message.  Message beats tactics, every time, and it did so in 2010 in Ohio.  Ted has never gotten beyond that.  For example, if someone asked me to sum up “What Ted Strickland Stands For”, I honestly couldn’t tell you in 2006 when he first ran, couldn’t tell you now, and neither could most Democrats.

It’s always tempting to think you can use tactics to wind your way out of an empty message.  Two examples.  I admit, I thought the NRA endorsement, and Kasich’s response on the issue, was enough to win the state in a close race.  Any campaign would be tempted to wrap that constituency up for themselves long term.  Another is Kasich’s education “plan”, which Ted used masterfully to argue that Kasich would eliminate local school districts.

In this economy, though, is that a message?  Or is it just another way to piece together a few votes here, a few votes there, and hope they add up to 50%+1?  Many will argue that Ted was too Republican-Lite, not progressive enough.  I probably agree with them.  But I think you can survive that sentiment in a close re-election battle if you also govern, both your state and your party, based on a message rather than on a mathematical calculation.

This tactical addiction to math, rather than message, really took root in much bigger decisions, though, which Ted Strickland made himself, and whose fruits left him extremely vulnerable in a close election to activist disengagement.

The decision to bring Lee Fisher onto the ticket in 2006 was entirely tactical.  It took away a primary opponent in 2006, Eric Fingerhut, for the sole reason that Fingerhut and Fisher counted on precisely the same base of support – Northeast Ohio Jewish Democrats who raise money.  Tactically, genius.  Long term strategically?  Catastrophic.  Sticking with Lee as he decided to run for US Senate, a decision likely made when Lee joined the ticket, cost Ted his job.

Tactical decision making by Ted Strickland brought us Marc Dann, and then his replacement, Rich Cordray, who also lost.  Tactical decision making by Ted Strickland put Chris Redfern at the helm of ODP, whose election to chair laid seeds of resentment across this state that still simmer on a low boil (getting hotter right about now, too), particularly in the black community.  And tactical decision making by Ted Strickland resulted in an endorsement of Hillary Clinton in 2008, which built further on resentment in the black community.

All of this adds up to a grassroots activist base that was simply never going to engage in 2010 to the degree it engaged in 2008, or 2006.  There are probably hundreds of people who refused to volunteer this fall based on the Brunner-Fisher primary alone.  Barack Obama’s operation, Organizing For America, the backbone of Ted’s re-election effort, probably suffered from this same disengagement in 2010 over the Hillary endorsement in 2008.  Turnout in African American precincts, always low, has to have been affected by all of this, too.

Democrats remember this stuff.  Especially the hard core activists.  You can’t consistently aggravate your most loyal supporters, on a host of issues, both substantive and political, and expect them to bust their asses for you in a mid-term election conducted in a tsunami environment.

Close election losses have a lot of blame to go around.  I don’t think Ted escapes unscathed, largely because of a systemic culture of political calculation, warned against but perpetuated, to the point that a lot of Ohio Democrats just decided, you know what Ted, be my guest, go ahead and try to re-elect yourself.

Breaks my heart to say it, too.  Really, it does.  Because Ted Strickland is such a great human being.  Good luck in all you do, Ted.  And thank you.

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  • Anonymous

    A mediocre group of democrats swept into office in 2006 because of Bob Taft and coingate. Their mediocrity was exposed and they were dispatched after one term. There’s really not much more to it than that.

  • Nicole

    IMO – this is pretty spot on. This post illustrates my feelings through the last 4 years. Ted is a great guy. Wish like hell he was still going to be our Governor for the next 4 years. He might have made me made with the things you illustrated… Dann, Redfern, Clinton, Brunner… hell even with that if he had endorsed Clinton without assisting her in the attacks against Obama and his supporter it would have been fine… And he probably should have stayed neutral in the Fisher v Brunner. BUT… I trusted him… trusted him with the keys to Ohio and my kid’s future.

    And you’re exactly right about the messaging. How do you knock on doors and convince people to vote for Ted b/c you trust him and he’s a good guy… you need to be inspired by him and believe in his message… I knocked on a few doors, but felt beat down this year and didn’t do what I could/should have. I needed some inspiration. If Brunner had been the Senate candidate – I would have been inspired.

  • Anonymous

    Here we go with the “hillbilly racist” stuff again.

    Ted Strickland stood for a society that invested in quality public education from the crib to the cap and gown that allowed opportunities for socio-economic mobility. He was a populist protectionist. He supported universal health care even when it cost him an election. He believed our economic recovery was to recreate Ohio into a manufacturing State again, but this time on the forefront of next gen energy.

    I’ll agree with you that the campaign was too focused on tactics, was poor on message, and failed to give a narrative as to what another four years of Strickland would mean other than not four years of Kasich. But it’s silly to say a guy who was willing to lose his seat over health care in the 1990s, and a Governorship believing in pubic education and the 3C didn’t stand for anything.

    What does Barack Obama stand for? I honestly don’t know anymore, but that’s why we saw so much of Bill Clinton on the trail.

  • When the economy sucks and people are blaming the incumbents for their problems you can’t sit around and play defense.

    Ted went on the offensive early and stayed there the entire time and it’s the reason he only lost by two points and every other Dem did worse.

    It was a shitty year for Democrats. It’s no one person’s fault. End of story.

  • Anastasjoy

    I agree with some of what you said, and disagree with some, but this is 100 percent true: “There are probably hundreds of people who refused to volunteer this fall based on the Brunner-Fisher primary alone.” You can wave a poll around measuring a race that never happened, but that is the crux of the Fisher points that probably took Strickland, Cordray (who I think was an excellent candidate and AG, so we disagree there) and Pepper down to defeat . I know these people and the amount of man and woman hours they would have put in could have changed the course of this election in Ohio. I can point to myself. Except for involvement in Mary Jane Trapp’s campaign, I did nothing until late August and then only because Kasich kept looking more and more horrifying, not because I was excited. Every time Lee made another blunder, I had to talk myself back into canvassing the following weekend. If Jennifer has won, I would have devoted all my spare time to the campaign, starting immediately after the primary in May. I know dozens of others just like me.

    I do know what Strickland stood for but i think the campaign tacticians didn’t think it was important. It’s a beef I have too and it’s a beef I have with the Cuyahoga County Party. I appreciate that Stuart Garson put a layer of protection between the party and the scandals by being a non-political non-office holder, and we needed that. But the first time I heard him speak and he basically brushed away peoples’ concerns about issues within the party and what we stood for and said, “We have to focus on winning in November and we can deal with all that other stuff afterward,” my heart sank. Because I knew it was not going to energize people to work or to come out and vote in a climate that had been made even more poisonous than it should have been due to the Plainly Republican’s execrable coverage.

  • Jen

    Unlimited financial resources from big business poured into this state in order to make Boehner speaker of the house. The nonstop negative noise machine scared and depressed voters who were already skittish due to the weak economy.

  • Tim, you summed this up concisely with: You’re correct that the Gov’s campaign was extremely professional, which is why it is so stunning that the campaign failed on 2 key points: Define yourself and Get Your Base Out To Vote.Message does matter. The fact is, the Gov’s campaign failed to define the Gov (like you, I cannot point to 3 things that he did or stood for – and I am a 4 out of 4 Dem Primary voter and former 8 year Franklin County Dem Vice Chair who paid very close attention to this race). The Care and Feeding of the Base is critical. Even George Bush understood base level involvement in 2004 when his troops rallied their base so efficiently they won Ohio. To motivate our base in a tsunami environment required early and repetitive communication.When the Party’s ED, was confronted with complaints that high D indexed precincts hadn’t been canvassed, and/or communicated directly by the campaign/Party, he brushed-off the complaint by saying, “We already have your votes.” In retrospect, that said it all and it explains why in my 95%+ Dem indexed precinct had one E-Day door hanger but little else in voter communications from the Party or Governor’s campaign.The base will not get out in difficult years unless we speak with them, hear them out and tell them what we stand for and how important their support is. This year, the base was taken for granted and it cost us ever statewide office.Ted’s a great person, his campaign tactics and triangulation failed miserably when they became awash with the notion that “Dem base voters always vote.” This fundamental miscalculation – in a year where the news was routinely covering the depth of Democratic voter dissatisfaction – it takes “stunning” to a level I cannot calculate. I trust as we move forward we never forget how important the base is to winning… because this year, the base was an afterthought having been sorely taken for granted for a long, long time.

  • Dennis Spisak

    Ted Strickland spent more time defining John Kasich than he did himself.

  • Hi Dennis! Nice 2% or so. I’m sure now that John Kasich has been elected the state will head in a much more green direction. Great work!

  • Anastasjoy

    Sorry, JE, but this was one of the most outstanding group of Democratic candidates I have ever seen. Kevin Boyce did an excellent job; Rich Cordray is widely considered to be the best attorney general in the country. And Ted got the economy going again and actually tackled education albeit with limited resources after the national economic crash, which is more than you can say for 16 years of Republicans. Coingate may have “swept them into office,” but they were also excellent candidates and they have done their job s well. The mediocrities and corrupt criminals-in-waiting are all on the GOP side as we will soon find out, to the state’s detriment and our sorrow. If you look at who this newly elected bunch is, they cannot succeed at least not on behalf of people who aren’t wealthy CEOs.

  • I have to really agree there. Rich Cordray mediocre? LOL. Our friend JE is often “in the darke”. This was one of the dumbest comments left here this week. Hands down.

    We’re about to see what some mediocre candidates can do. Portman is about the only exception in this group. He’s seems to be a pretty strong candidate who will probably end up on a bigger ticket at some point.

    Kasich. Dewine. Mandel. ROFL. Lots of trash sweeps up on shore in a tidal wave.

  • Pingback: John Ryan the next ODP chair? Spare me.()

  • Victoria

    As someone who has worked for ODP and Strickland pretty tirelessly for the past 5 years that I am beyond crushed by this election. In my opnion Ted is one of the few modern politicians that is actually worthy of being loved by his supporters sinply due to his sterling character. But I was worried when volunteers were not showing up fast enough this year.
    I would disagree with your assessment of Ted’s choice to back Hillary. That was an entirely emotional decision on his part. He is really attached to those two. I think congress was a pretty miserable place for Dems lots of the years he was there and he really depended on them.
    Since I spent so much time on the campaign, I do think he defined himself well, but I was actually paying attention since April and most voters were not.
    I think the loss can be chalked up to Citizens United and Rupert Murdoch–woe is us! And to the Dimora scandal in Cleveland. I think the Cleveland folks were well aware Kasich is potentially the most corrupt politican to ever become govenor, but Dimora was simply so ugly and so corrupt right now and right in their faces that they just could not even vote. Joshua Engel did not help either.

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