Democrats Come Back in GOP-Dominated Ohio

Posted April 7, 2008 at 6:30pm

If there ever was a state that exemplified the Democratic hurricane of 2006, it was Ohio. The same GOP that delivered the 2004 election to President Bush suffered from widely publicized corruption scandals in both the state and national Capitol. [IMGCAP(1)]

As expected, many rising stars played a part in the the 2006 sweep that delivered almost every statewide office to Democrats. What’s more, term limits in both state legislative chambers — eight years in each the state House and Senate — ensure a new crop of pols are always coming up through the ranks.

State House Minority Leader Joyce Beatty (D) is well-respected in her party, especially in the state Capitol. According to one Democratic consultant who works in the Buckeye State, Democrats took back 10 seats in the state House and now only have a handful more to go in part because of her efforts.

“She’s dynamite,” said the Democratic consultant. “She’s in Columbus and if we take back the House, it will be a lot of her doing.”

Beatty is term-limited at the end of 2008 but could run for Congress in either of the Columbus districts in any of the cycles to come. The swing 15th district seat is currently open, and state Sen. Steve Stivers (R) and Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D), who is making her second bid, are competing for the right to replace outgoing Rep. Deborah Pryce (R). In the neighboring 12th district, Rep. Patrick Tiberi (R) has yet to receive a competitive challenge for re-election.

Another leader in the 2006 sweep, state Rep. Chris Redfern, is also the state Democratic party chairman. Redfern, who was state House Minority Leader before Beatty, hails from the north-central part of the state, near Toledo. According to Democrats in Ohio, he is on any short list for statewide office.

As one Democratic operative put it, Redfern “made a lot of Democrats smile around here” in 2006. And if Toledo area Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving Democratic member of the Ohio delegation, decides to retire any time soon, sources say Redfern would be a natural fit for her seat.

“Chris’ name is on the short list of any serious discussion of future candidates, particularly if Marcy Kaptur retires or has any statewide ambitions,” said the operative.

Before Redfern was the House Democratic Leader, Parma Mayor Dean DePiero had the job. DePiero also is on the short list, according to the operative, along with Redfern, of taking Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher’s (D) job if Fisher runs against Sen. George Voinovich (R) in 2010.

The mayor of the largest suburb in Cleveland’s 10th Congressional district, DePiero also is considered by many insiders to be the heir apparent whenever Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D) retires. There have been rumors in the past few cycles that DePiero would challenge Kucinich in the Democratic primary, though the mayor has yet to make any official moves in that direction.

“Dean DePiero is going to be something special,” said a Democratic operative. “I think Dennis dodged a bullet when [DePiero] decided not to run for Congress. The field would have cleared for him.”

Another 10th district pol, Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman (D), also might be planning to take on Kucinich next cycle or be looking toward another higher office down the road. Cimperman came in second to Kucinich in a five-way primary last month, but raised enough money in the process for Democrats to take him seriously.

In the district northwest of Columbus, Democrats see state Rep. Jay Goyal (D) as having a promising future. In addition to being the first ever Asian- American Ohioan in the legislature, Goyal comes from the Mansfield area in freshman Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R) district.

Although the 4th district as currently drawn votes Republican, if Democrats have control of the redistricting process in 2011, they could easily redraw the seat to include more Democrats in Columbus — and thereby make it a competitive district.

Goyal is the youngest Member of the state legislature and is serving his first term in the House, giving him time to ascend the ranks. He also represents the region once held by another very young legislator in the late 1970s, now-Sen. Sherrod Brown (D).

In the southwestern part of the state, Democrats see both Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper and state Sen. Eric Kearney as part of their first string. Pepper lost the race for mayor of Cincinnati in 2005, leaving him with a loss on his record but higher name identification in the 1st Congressional district. Nonetheless, Democrats say Pepper is a great fundraiser.

Kearney, who is one of the owners of a chain of African-American news media outlets in the region, also is a possibility, but he is term-limited after 2010.

Even though party leaders recruited state Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) to run against Rep. Steve Chabot (R) in 2008, they could easily look to Pepper or Kearney further down the road if Driehaus loses.