Can the Democrats still win in Ohio? Ohio’s last two-year Democratic governor, Dick Celeste, believes so

LAKEWOOD, Ohio — Dick Celeste was Ohio’s last Democratic governor to win re-election. That was in 1986.

Celeste, 85, is optimistic other Ohio Democrats will be able to duplicate his performance. He says he did it by building a grassroots network of supporters in each of Ohio’s 88 counties that was independent of both the Ohio Democratic Party and the network of the Democrat who elected governor before him, John Gilligan .

“You have to build at the district organization,” says Celeste, who lives in Colorado but is in Ohio to promote his forthcoming political autobiography, In the Heart of It All.

“There are people in every county who wish things were different,” Celeste continues. “The point isn’t that Democrats will control every county in the state, the point is that Democrats need to collect votes in every county in the state. In places that are Democratic strongholds, like Cleveland and Columbus and the major metropolitan areas, we need to be able to cast our vote. I think there’s really a lot to do, and that’s the organizational work. I think that the question of choice is raised with the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade opens the door for Democrats to organize across the state. I think people will be concerned about a variety of issues.”

Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan improved President Joe Biden’s performance in 85 of Ohio’s 88 counties in his failed bid for the state’s vacant seat in the US Senate this year, but that resulted in only a modest statewide improvement over Biden , which lost Ohio by 8 percentage points in 2020. In the midterm election, Republicans once again took the statewide offices by a wide margin, winning 10 of the state’s 15 congressional seats and expanding their supermajorities in the Ohio General Assembly.

Though only one Democrat currently holds statewide office in Ohio — US Senator Sherrod Brown — Celeste says Ohio is still a “purple” state that can be won by either party. He says Republicans’ efforts to politicize the Ohio Supreme Court and pursue an “extreme” agenda in the state legislature underscores the importance of Democrats offering a strong alternative.

He describes the unsuccessful Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate for 2022, former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, as a “very gifted” candidate but says she lacked the financial means to win. The Democratic voting races suffered without a strong gubernatorial candidate to act as the “engine” for the entire ticket, Celeste said.

He notes that many Ohio candidates for state office build recognition for their name by losing runs for state office before winning them, and recalls that he lost his first gubernatorial contest to Republican Jim Rhodes, but won four years later after further organizing his support. He predicts Ryan would be an “impressive candidate” if he runs again.

He says former President Donald Trump has attracted many disenchanted Ohio Democrats who feel the government isn’t working for them and support “angry change.”

“I think if we had a stronger Democratic Party, Joe Biden would have worn Ohio,” Celeste says. “People need to realize that today the Republican Party leadership wants to slash Social Security and would end the health coverage that Obamacare provided. These things only become clearer when you have people working to share the story at the grassroots level.”

Changes in how people get their information — like the rise of social media and the decline of the Big Three broadcasters that dominated coverage when he served as governor — have made politics more difficult to practice, Celeste says.

He says the “fragmented” media landscape, which allows people to only hear news that reinforces their opinions rather than engage with others, has made it more difficult to work on a bipartisan basis. Gerrymandered political districts that are attracted to being dominated by a single political party end up being rewarded with extreme views, too, he says.

Celeste says that for most of his time as governor he has had to work with legislatures controlled by the other party and believes doing business with the other side helped make him a better governor.

“Really, the dominant party these days are non-party voters,” says Celeste. “I think the challenge for any candidate is to figure out, ‘How do I appeal not just to my own partisan supporters, but how do I appeal to the people who don’t identify with a party but who care about public policy ?’

Continue reading:

5 Food Stands From Former Ohio Governor Dick Celeste’s New Memoir: In The Heart Of It All