By Matt A. Mayer
One high-level Ohio Democratic leader said to me in the past 24 hours, “Given the state of things, how did you guys possible lose this election?” Among the many reasons is that Republican leaders in Ohio engaged in a very divisive, drawn-out intra-party fight over controlling the money strings of the Ohio Republican Party (ORP). Costly and drawn out — also stupid.
Coming off 2010, one of the most successful election years in Ohio history, ORP chairman Kevin DeWine rightly took credit for guiding the ship that saw wins in every statewide race, gains in the Ohio Senate, upset wins in U.S. congressional races, maintaining control of a U.S. Senate seat, and retaking the Ohio House. Within a month of the November wins, however, soon-to-be-governor John Kasich asked DeWine to resign because he felt DeWine wasn’t loyal to him. Naturally, DeWine refused.
The backdrop is that Secretary of State Jon Husted wants to be governor. DeWine is a Secretary Husted supporter. As I detail in my book Taxpayers Don’t Stand a Chance, people loyal to Governor Kasich believe that the Senate Bill 5 debacle (Ohio’s public-sector collective-bargaining reforms that went down in flames) was a devious plot by Secretary Husted and DeWine to hurt Governor Kasich. The alleged goal was to wound Governor Kasich enough that he wouldn’t run for reelection in 2016, thereby making way for Secretary Husted. John Grisham couldn’t write a better political thriller.
At any rate, with Republicans facing a long presidential-primary battle that would delay the rollout of the winner’s campaign team in Ohio, Governor Kasich decided to launch a full-scale attack on DeWine to force him out of the ORP. All winter and spring, his team traveled around Ohio in an effort to determine which local party leaders where loyal to him and which ones were loyal to DeWine. They then recruited candidates to take out the DeWine loyalists in central-committee races across Ohio. They even went so far as use precious campaign funds to run ads and send direct mail. When the dust settled after the March primary, it was unclear who had the upper hand on the central committee. The fight rolled on for another few weeks, with DeWine finally resigning in April.
With DeWine out, Governor Kasich’s team purged the ORP of DeWine staffers and inserted his own loyalists (they refer to themselves as “True Bloods”) over the next month. Though this insider squabble had no impact on most Ohioans, it consumed party activists and split the party in two.
More important, this circular firing squad meant that putting together and rolling out a get-out-the-vote plan became a secondary priority. With Governor Romney stuck in a primary battle into mid-April, his team’s ability to put together a GOTV program in Ohio also was delayed. At the same time, as highlighted in the Washington Post story, “The Strategy That Paved a Winning Path,” President Obama’s team was quietly expanding its operations in Ohio and engaging in micro-targeting at an unprecedented level.
I can’t say how much this insider party fight hurt Governor Romney on November 6, but it certainly didn’t help. Democrats were united, Republicans were divided. That formula rarely leads to victory.