Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, a Democrat, says he hasn’t made up his mind about running for governor in 2014 against Republican John Kasich but he is giving all the tell-tale signs that he is a serious candidate.
FitzGerald, 44, drove to Columbus on Wednesday evening to make a six-minute pitch to a little more than half of the 88 county party chairmen during their bi-annual meeting, introducing himself and telling them that he’ll need their help in a statewide campaign to unseat Kasich.
It isn’t the first time the county party chairmen have seen him either. FitzGerald has been making the rounds for months, traveling the state and laying the groundwork. He said he’ll make a formal announcement sometime in the next few months. “I am very, very serious about it,” he told reporters at Ohio Democratic Party headquarters on Wednesday.
FitzGerald is a former assistant county prosecutor and FBI special agent who served 12 years on the Lakewood City Council and as mayor. Only three years ago, FitzGerald made the jump from city elected leader to countywide elected executive. If he takes on Kasich, it’ll be his first run statewide.
In contrast, Kasich has been in politics and in the public eye since 1978 when he won a seat on the Ohio Senate and then moved onto an 18-year career in Congress. He also worked as a commentator on FoxNews and won his first statewide race in 2010 by a narrow margin, unseating Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Kasich intends to seek re-election, though he hasn’t made a formal announcement.
Other possible Democratic contenders for governor are U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of the Youngstown area and former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray. Cordray now heads the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and is prohibited from engaging in politics. Ryan’s spokesman said the congressman is considering all options. Former congresswoman Betty Sutton has also expressed an interest in running statewide but she hasn’t specified when or for which office, said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern.
Party leaders want to avoid a costly contested May 2014 primary, if possible, and have a presumed nominee in the public eye and raising money as soon as possible. The race is expected to garner national attention since Ohio is a battleground state.
FitzGerald said he anticipates gubernatorial campaign spending to be in the same ballpark as the recent U.S. Senate race between Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Josh Mandel. Combined, the two candidates raised $43 million and outside groups poured another $52 million into the race.
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