The Ohio Democrats began charting a new path for their party Tuesday night, but it will take a little longer than originally expected.
The party’s executive committee voted to postpone the vote for a new chair from December 29 to January 14. So far, six people have announced that the position will be open, which opens with the resignation of Chairman David Pepper on January 1st. The party’s vice chairman will serve as the incumbent party chairman until the committee selects a new chairman.
On Tuesday, the party unveiled six candidates who officially competed during a virtual meeting of their executive committee. While the party encouraged those interested in the job to send a notice, its statutes allow anyone to be nominated at the January 14 meeting. When a candidate is nominated and given a second, the committee votes on him to chair.
That leaves the door open to some with rumors hoping to emerge at the last minute after stated candidates were screened through open forums for the 149-member Central Committee.
Here are the candidates who, at least officially, say they are the right person to correct course for the Ohio Democratic Party after a second straight defeat for the party’s candidate in the Ohio presidential election.
Wilson is a longtime political adviser in central Ohio who is pursuing the post for the second time after falling short in 2014 when the party selected Pepper as its leader.
In a memo to party members, Wilson put a “rural and urban agenda” in an “88 county strategy”, but it really stands up to its election victory record. Wilson is fresh from a statewide victory – one the party cherished as the crown jewel in an otherwise bleak 2020 election – leading Jennifer Brunner’s campaign for the Ohio Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court race was their first nationwide campaign since 2006, but Wilson has backed dozens of successful endeavors in Franklin County, one of the state’s most trusted blue areas. She was state director during the primary for John Kerry’s 2004 campaign and Ohio political director for President Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996.
On Tuesday, Wilson said the party needed to be “rebuilt”.
“We have come to a point in this party where there has to be a direction that puts us back on the map as a battlefield state and takes Ohio back to the times it was before,” she said.
Gentile is originally from Steubenville, east Ohio, a tricky part of the state for Democrats. Once reliably blue, the strength of the Democrats in the Mahoning Valley to the north and in places like Jefferson, Belmont and Monroe has declined in recent cycles. President Donald Trump carried the region in 2020 and deepened a postponement from 2016.
“I refuse to believe that Ohio is a deep red state, but we need to make fundamental changes in our planning and approach,” wrote Gentile in his letter to party members.
At the top of his list: hiring full-time black and minority organizers to reach these voters well before the end of the election cycle, and more contact with rural areas, as he represented as a former state representative and senator. The former senator said Tuesday he wanted to expand the party outside of its traditional contribution base to fund his plans.
“I’m optimistic about the future of the Ohio Democratic Party. I think we can turn Ohio blue,” he said.
Klatt, a progressive organizer from Columbus who worked in organized labor, would represent a shift for the party.
In his letter, Klatt derided what he called culture within the party, “which sees new and emerging voices as a threat rather than an asset and has at times actively organized to counter the interests of the grassroots within the party.” He wants to get rid of pre-primary endorsements, which he calls “tips,” and urge the party to work more directly with grassroots groups who are now filling gaps that the party should fill.
This includes rural areas and other locations outside of the state’s major metropolitan areas, where Democrats traditionally seek to make big profits to offset losses elsewhere. Those who run the party need to reflect on their members.
“We also need to start living our democratic values. While the Republican Party increasingly despises democracy, openness, fairness and inclusivity, our power rests on our ability to embrace them,” he said.
Josephson briefly served as a prime Democratic nominee for the 25th district seat in the Ohio House of Representatives before stepping out shortly before the spring vote over coronavirus concerns.
He has worked with unions for years as a union organizer, union representative and union president. With the approval of the party, he ran for a state legislative seat in 2002.
His suggestions include the draft of Yellow Springs comedian Dave Chappelle to run for the Senate seat now held by Republican Rob Portman and the support of Governor Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, both Republicans, for re-elected to “show our willingness” to promote bipartisan cooperation on behalf of Ohio interests. “
On Tuesday, Josephson said voters who lost Democrats in small industrial towns made a “rational choice” to vote for Republicans because Democrats have no power to use to help them. He said the party had to reorganize on the grassroots.
“My goal is to offer this type of relationship to our members in every neighborhood,” he said.
Walters was already part of the party apparatus. The Vice President of Summit County Council was the State Executive Director before Pepper was elected chairman in 2014 and previously served as an advisor to former Congresswoman Betty Sutton.
She wrote to the party saying it needed to strengthen its “foundations,” including using data and working with county parties, and making better connections in all 88 counties. The party also needs more leadership roles for people of color and to involve democrats from outside the urban areas, women and young voters in decision-making, she said on Tuesday.
The party must also establish connections with voters over a longer period of time, she said.
“We have to show up in all parts of Ohio and show up year round,” said Walters.
Enoch was a candidate for the 8th district seat in the 2018 and 2020 elections, losing to incumbent Congressman Warren Davidson in the gerrymandered district.
Like Pepper, Enoch comes from southwest Ohio. She lives in West Chester outside of Cincinnati but grew up in Portsmouth. She said the party needs a chair that understands both urban and rural parts of the state.
Enoch called herself a “nontraditional candidate” during her introduction to the Executive Committee on Tuesday.
“My desire to run for chairmanship of the Ohio Democratic Party at this point is to have an impact across the state of Ohio,” she said. “I think we now have the opportunity to make changes.”
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