If the new Ohio Democratic Party [ODP] can match future election results to the rousing rhetoric delivered Friday evening, the White House win they hope to pull off again in two years could cascade to 2018 when Ohio’s all-Republican statewide officeholders, from governor to General Assembly, become term-limited and present open race opportunities across the board.
About 850 Democratic faithful packed the Athenaeum Friday night in downtown Columbus to hear the party’s new dual vanguard, David Pepper from Cincinnati and Nina Turner from Cleveland, outline what they called their “16-18” plan to build a better party infrastructure that can perform at all government levels even when presidential campaigns leave.
Mr. Pepper, a former Cincinnati councilman and Hamilton County Commissioner, talked about standing together so it’s not feast in one year and famine in another. Party infrastructure is key, and Pepper is again listening to county chairmen, who felt they had little say in the top-down operations of the party under former chairman Chris Redfern, who took the job in 2005 then gave it up last year.
Representatives Joyce Beatty and Tim Ryan each pumped up the crowd with their own fiery rhetoric. Beatty headlined her remarks with her much-used phrase “when women succeed America succeeds.” And Ryan, who Beatty introduced as someone she hopes one day to call governor, used his turn at the podium to take on Rob Portman, Ohio’s junior senator, painting Portman as a privileged politician. He said CEOs are now making $296 dollars for every dollar the average worker makes, and that Portman is in their corner. He reminded his audience that Portman, running for a second term next year, was both George W. Bush’s budget director and his trade representative. Ryan disparaged Portman for supporting bad trade deals like NAFTA [North American Free Trade Act] that he said cost Ohio about 323,000 jobs. He said Sen. Portman also pushed for President Bush’s unpaid for tax cuts, which then ate up the budget surpluses produced under President Bill Clinton.
“You can’t fill a pothole with a tax cut, you can’t build a school with a tax cut, you can’t build a bridge with a tax cut,” said Ryan. Hitting familiar Democratic themes, he said stagnant growth is all trickle-down economics produces, and that’s not helping working families nearly as good as middle-class economics, a popular economic casting used often by President Obama. He tagged Portman for voting for the Iraq war, saying the nation is still living with that bad decision. While Beatty and Turner stressed the importance of registering to vote and then voting, Ryan said Republicans can only win by dividing the electorate. A key responsibility of ODP going forward is to unite voters.
The big draw of the evening was hearing the two Democrats who have entered the race against Portman so far. P.G Sittinfeld, a Cincinnati councilman who jumped in the race weeks ago, spoke first and pitched the crowd on his candidacy with messages of opportunity, infrastructure and new leadership .
But it was clear by abundance of stickers and signs in the room that Ted Strickland was the man many Dems had come to see. Strickland, looking every bit like a U.S. Senator, brought his brand of fire as he roared about the privileged and the powerful not paying their fair share of taxes. The biggest corporations in America, Strickland said, pay no federal tax. He talked about trying to live on a minimum wage salary and not being able to make it past a week of eating peanut butter and ramen noodles.
A campaign leader for President Obama in 2012, the former Congressman from southeast Ohio said there was a time when you debated Republicans on issues. Now he, said, “We have to debate reality,” a line that struck home. He mocked the 2012 GOP candidate Mitt Romney for saying one of his faults in the race was to act less like a robot. “I don’t even need a punch line,” Strickland said.
“Robots and corporations are things,” he said, highlighting a key ideological difference between Repubicans and Democrats and playing off Romney’s famous statement about corporations being people. Corporations and robots are things, “like a box; you can build one, but you can’t make one with a heart…that sacrifices for others…that believes in something bigger than itself.”