By a vote of acclamation, David Pepper was elected to lead the Ohio Democratic Party on Tuesday following a rousing endorsement by Democratic Columbus Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, seconded by former Mayor of Cincinnati Bill Mallory. Outgoing Chairman Chris Redfern, first elected in 2005, reminded those in attendance that the ODP is still one of the largest and most powerful state parties in the country and is destined for a future full of victories. The meeting, held in the downtown Columbus headquarters of ODP was an official meeting of the 148-member Executive Committee, who chooses party leadership.
For Democrats, the number 692 looms as a day of destiny or infamy. In slightly less than two years, Ohio’s role in U.S. president-making becomes outsized as Republicans have picked Cleveland for their national convention, while Columbus is one of three cities included in the DNC’s narrowed field for their national convention.
On Election Day 2016, Democrats, lead by Pepper, must keep Ohio “Blue” so President Obama won’t be replaced by a Republican. That evolving narrative at the heart of why winning candidates win when they win Ohio now includes two home-state GOP officials who are widely spoken about as possible ticket toppers or mates. U.S. Senator Rob Portman’s term ends in two years, and while he’s said he likes where he is and has taken himself out of the race for president, he’s widely viewed as a perfect match running mate for an establishment Republican like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, younger brother to former President George W. Bush, who announced today he is “officially thinking about running for president.” The other Buckeye is Gov. John Kasich, who won a second term this year and who is running a stealth campaign for president.
Newly-elected ODP Chairman David Pepper stated that the party’s unified goal is to win elections. Doing that will demand an all-hands on deck effort that invites anyone who can make a difference to join in. “Labor is the heart and soul of the Ohio Democratic Party,” Pepper said in his acceptance speech. He added, the new ODP, under his leadership, will fight for issues that make a difference in people’s lives, including equal pay and boosting stagnant wages. Public Education is maybe the most important issue for Pepper, who spoke lovingly of his young son Jack tonight. “We will stand up for public education,” Pepper said, underscoring that winning elections is the only path to realizing policies that address issues central to Democrats.
Pepper made special mention of State Senator Nina Turner from Cleveland, who leaves the legislature this year. Prior to the meeting, a manifesto of sorts that outlined a plan going forward that was authored by Pepper and Turner was released. Turner will have a complimentary role, although it wasn’t clear Tuesday night what it would be. Pepper and Turner joined forces this year as the “election protection team” as they crisscrossed the state in a losing effort. But defeat notwithstanding, the two former candidates embraced each other and pledged better times are ahead.
Pepper’s party infrastructure will have it’s debut next year, when local elections are scheduled. While Sen. Turner wasn’t ready to identify a specific “Kitty Hawk” race ODP can point to as proof positive it’s learned to win again, as the mist cleared from the evening’s activities it was clear Turner would take on issues related to voting and voting rights.
In his closing remarks, Pepper hearkened back to what former Gov. Ted Strickland, who was not at last night’s meeting, once said: “I ask only one thing of you, stick together.” And so it will be the new measuring stick of how Pepper, Turner and other leaders perform in the weeks and months to come.
Can they stick together by harnessing the sheer number of voters who outnumber Republicans, which is estimated at 800,000 or more? Can they stick together in the new session of the legislature, where Republicans now have majorities in both chambers, and a GOP governor desperate to be in the national ticket for 2016? Can ODP stick together enough so the national Democratic candidate for the White House, whomever it may be, can come to Ohio and win it like they’ve done the past two presidential election cycles?
Time will tell.