Last week, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern notified the Ohio Democratic Party’s Executive Committee and county party chairs that Doug Kelly and Lauren Groh-Wargo would be leaving ODP to go into business together:

Executive Director Doug Kelly and Deputy Executive Director Lauren Groh-Wargo have decided to tackle a new challenge that will utilize their talents not just here in Ohio, but across the country, in helping build stronger, more effective state-based organizations. 

While I am disappointed that these two extraordinary leaders have decided to leave ODP, I am excited they will remain in Ohio and continue to provide guidance to me and the Party through 2011 and beyond.

A national search will soon commence to find a new executive director.  In the interim, Doug will be available for any questions you may have.

In addition, sources within ODP indicated that the White House, Democratic National Committee, and major party stakeholders, such as the leadership of organized labor have also been informed within the past few days.

The announcement wasn’t much of a surprise.  Several Democratic insiders I talked to about the announcement mentioned that Kelly, in particular, had signaled that he had told folks he felt that he had “one cycle left in him” before the 2010 elections.  Kelly mentioned the same as well  as his two young children, ages two and nine, and the demands of the job requires a  great deal of personal sacrifice.  Kelly had served as Executive Director since 2007, after service as the Research Director at the Democratic National Committee.  All in all Kelly has had a major role in national and State party politics for the past fourteen years.

Kelly and Groh-Wargo spoke exclusively with us about the decision to leave.  Kelly told us that the plan was for him to remain for the next two months, while Groh-Wargo will be at ODP for another month.  They’ll both be involved in assisting the Party in the national search for their replacement and will be basing their new consultancy job out of Columbus, so they will be available to further aid in the transition once their successor are chosen.

Groh-Wargo, who headed the GOTV effort in 2010 while at Organizing for America’s Ohio chapter, said the voter files from the 2008 and 2010 campaigns and well as their plans and internal post-election analysis will remain with the party.  The party’s institutional knowledge “doesn’t go away with the people,” Groh-Wargo said.  She also pointed out that Greg Schultz is expected to remain at OFA while assuming his new duties as the Franklin County.

In reflecting on his tenure since 2007, Kelly noted that their approach was to grow the State Party as an organization, build a solid base of institutional funding, and building the party from the bottom-up and top-down.  Kelly leaves feeling that the Ohio Democratic Party has gone from a politically anemic organization to a strong brand that has taken the concept of what a State party can be to the next level. 

During the 2010 elections, the Ohio Democratic Party was the third largest Democratic organization in the nation.  Kelly indicated that he believes the time was as right to make the move as it can ever get.  But he believes that the SB 5 referendum fight, what MSNBC’s Chuck Todd predicted will be the “Super Bowl” of American politics this year, in addition to the ‘12 presidential election, and ODP’s reputation nationally will attract top political talent nationally to ODP.

Groh-Wargo emphasized that one of the lessons learned is that a coordinated campaign cannot be just an even-year concept.  With twenty professionals on staff at ODP, both believe that ODP is well positioned to go to the next level and become even more effective.  In discussing the referendum campaign this year, both indicated that the party is able to reach 600,000 Democratic activists–a much broader audience than organized labor can do on their own—to assist with messaging and the crucial organization that is needed to get SB 5 on the ballot and the other challenges of an issue campaign.

Both indicated that they hope their successors will bring the new energy ODP needs, but builds off the infrastructure and approach they built over the last two cycles.  Meanwhile, they hope to assist other State parties in repeating the success and, yes, avoid some of the mistakes, ODP made into the political institutional powerhouse.

Both Kelly and Groh-Wargo indicated that this was their personal decision.  ODP officially declined comment, beyond the Chairman’s e-mail mentioned above.  However, conversations with insiders at ODP and outside have consistently indicated that this was, in fact, their decision.  If it had been otherwise, a change would have likely occurred much soon after the November elections than now.

[UPDATE:] Seth Bringman, Communication Director of the Ohio Democratic Party issued the following statement:

“The organization we were able to build is a direct result of their leadership. Doug was the inspirational, visionary leader. Lauren was the glue that held the organization together. It has been an absolute honor to have had the opportunity to work for them for the past two years and I am confident that they will make us proud in their new venture.”

Furthermore, such turnover is actually the norm.  For example, the Ohio Republican Party had already announced they had made a change in Executive Director and Communication Director after their successful 2010 elections as well.

We’ll continue to follow the story of the search, and we wish Kelly and Groh-Wargo success in their efforts to build even stronger State Democratic Party organizations across the nation.

  • stryx

    “If it had been otherwise, a change would have likely occurred much soon after the November elections than now.”

    Let’s see. How many statewide Dems were elected last November? Congressional Reps? Senator?

    Last November’s elections were a slaughter of epic proportions. Now districts for the next 10 years will be drawn by Team Kasich.

    Just exactly how bad does it have to be for anyone to face some consequences?

    If we’re going to go into 2012 with the same team, why should we expect different outcomes?

    The nationals blame the states, the states blame the counties, the counties blame the cities, and the cities blame the national party.

    If we are going to avoid the horror of the headlines on Weds the 7th reading SENATOR MANDEL then we have to start now. Waiting for Team Obama or whatever union group to drive folks to the polls is a losing strategy.

    It’s nice that the Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director are leaving of their own accord.

    What would have been nicer is if someone at their level had gotten fired for being an incompetent f-up who screwed the Party for a decade.

    But I guess that’s not how things are done.

  • Augustus

    Good Riddance you idiots!

  • deminohio2011

    LGW’s targets on election day made me wonder if she was working for the Republicans. I can’t imagine who would hire her given the complete blowout in 2010. Unreal. Dems rewarding losers over and over.

  • Anonymous

    Look, I’m not saying ODP is entirely blameless for what happened last year and there were no mistakes, but…. I don’t think it’s fair to say ODP was to blame for the 2010 elections.

    As much as I like the people there, Strickland folks did themselves little favor. While he was Governor, his Communication shop wasn’t as aggressive as they could have been promoting Strickland’s achievements in office. The campaign itself probably made a mistake in going dark in August with a hope that a more concentrated ad buy in the end would carry them through.

    Strickland’s campaign focused entirely too much on Lehman Brothers that it lost all its punch. Meanwhile, they, too, saw their biggest bounce when they focused on Ted’s record, but they did it too little and too late. Also, I still believe it was a major mistake for the Strickland campaign to put forward no agenda to show voters what to expect if Strickland was re-elected.

    Cordray never really went after DeWine and largely expected the media to respond to DeWine’s attack in fact-checking. These were decisions made independent of ODP.

    On top of that ODP can’t be held responsible for the environment that we saw in 2010 which was national in scope.

  • stryx

    “Kelly leaves feeling that the Ohio Democratic Party has gone from a politically anemic organization to a strong brand that has taken the concept of what a State party can be to the next level. ”

    I guess I’d just add here [citation needed].

    The closest I could get was a HuffPost bleg from Kelly (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/doug-kelly/an-open-letter-to-the-pro_b_776705.html) that basically lays out GOTV as the job ODP was handling.

    So if GOTV is what ODP is responsible for, and Dems in Ohio got creamed due to lack of votes then what lesson exactly are we supposed to draw from this? That we have a “next level” GOTV operation but it doesn’t work is the one that stands out to me.

    Maybe we can hope the ORP runs more Nazi reenactors and creepy B&D enthusiasts in ’12. That seemed pretty effective for us last time.

  • Josh

    Yes not ODP’s fault at all. They had nothing to do with targeting the Sporadic democrats and ignoring the base…. DK and LGW need to leave politics for good. They need to take their sidekick Redfern with them, considering DK pulled all the strings and CR did nothing to prevent this.

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