Monday, February 27, 2006

A Dumb Mistake May Cost Democrats

By Stuart Rothenberg

For months, Democratic insiders have been touting their candidate in Ohio’s 6th District, state Senator Charlie Wilson. They’ve been arguing that the socially conservative Democrat fits the district perfectly, and that he will easily hold retiring Congressman Ted Strickland’s open House seat in Southeastern Ohio.

But Wilson and his campaign team apparently have trouble with both arithmetic and geography, and the campaign’s surprising ineptness suddenly puts Democratic chances of retaining the district in doubt.

Wilson submitted just 46 valid signatures, four short of the 50 he needed to get his name on the May 2 primary ballot, in part because his campaign submitted signatures from people who don’t live within the 6th Congressional District. (In an obvious irony, Wilson himself lives in the neighboring 18th C.D., not in the 6th District.)

Wilson took much of the blame, admitting that he didn’t realize that his home county, where he got most of the signatures, is split between two Congressional districts.

Most campaigns use the signature-gathering process as an opportunity to build a list for fundraising and future voter contact. Wilson, apparently, didn’t pay any attention to the signatures or plan to use them to his advantage.

This is a conservative Democratic district, and without Wilson on the November ballot -- either by winning a write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination, through a successful Independent bid during the general election or by selecting him to fill a vacancy if the eventual primary winner drops out of the contest -- Democrats will likely lose the seat. The GOP nominee is Ohio House Speaker Pro Tem Chuck Blasdel, a credible candidate who was seen as a formidable Republican nominee even before Wilson’s ballot access problem developed.

The problem for Democrats is that a write-in campaign would be extremely costly, while an Independent bid would mean two Democrats and only one Republican on the November ballot.

This is one of the dumber mistakes in recent memory, rivaling a blunder by then-state Auditor Anne DeVore (R) of Indiana in 1994. DeVore, the clear favorite for the GOP nomination in a Democratic open House seat that year, missed the deadline by a couple of hours for turning in her signatures. That year, the Republican nomination -- and the seat in Congress -- was eventually won by David McIntosh (R).

No matter what happens in Ohio 6 from now on, it will be hard for Democratic operatives and strategists to sing Wilson’s praises as a candidate. He looks like a fool.

This piece first appeared on Political Wire on February 23, 2006.