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Ohio Mobilizes: Walking In the Footsteps of a Hero

John Glenn

There has not been a Democrat elected to statewide office in Ohio since 1992, when John Glenn won his fourth term in the Senate. Glenn is also the last Democrat to defeat Mike DeWine in an election. Republican control of the Buckeye state's senate seats, Republican control of the state house, and Republican control of Secretary of State's office has led to failures of leadership within Ohio and arguably cost John Kerry the presidency in 2004. Fortunately Glenn's title of "Last Democrat to Win A Statewide Election" is about to be passed off in what may be a clean sweep of Dems into statewide office.

Last night I sat in the pews of the Living Faith Apostolic Church, where their predominantly black congregation had welcomed the entire Democratic ticket for statewide offices (as well as Bob Shamansky and Mary Jo Kilroy) into their sanctuary for a voter education and outreach rally. The candidates were introduced in turn by an historic slate of Ohio Democrats: Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, State Senator Ray Miller, State Representative Joyce Beatty, and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones.

There are two waves breaking blue in Ohio. The anti-Bush wave has been seen around the country, but a number of campaign workers I've talked to said that Ohio Democrats are also benefitting from the Ted Strickland wave. A Columbus Dispatch poll released yesterday shows Democrats poised to win every statewide office in Ohio. Ted Strickland is up 36%, Sherrod Brown is up 24% and in a race that Democratic partisans nationwide should be tracking closely, Secretary of State candidate Jennifer Brunner is up 21%. The Democratic revolution doesn't stop there: Auditor candidate Barbara Sykes, Treasurer candidate Richard Cordray, and Attorney General Candidate Marc Dann all have significant leads on their opponents. Supreme Court candidates Ben Espy and William O'Neill are within striking distance in the Dispatch poll, though the court is technically non-partisan.

Senator Glenn introduced Rep. Sherrod Brown by chronicling the sad state of our country. "The Constitution has been weakened under this administration." His endorsement of Brown focused around Sherrod's support for good jobs, workers' rights, and raising the minimum wage. "Democrats created minimum wage," Glenn added, "I know about minimum wage because my first job paid minimum wage: $0.25 an hour in 1938."

Ballot Issue 2, which will raise the minimum wage in Ohio from $5.15 to $6.85, may well be the Democratic answer to anti-gay marriage initiatives. Senator Glenn told me that he thinks Ohio is a proving ground for political trends, "If it sells in Ohio, it will sell nationally. Thus we must run on all the things that make America great." Minimum wage, Glenn added, is one of the things that Democrats will win on.

I spoke with Keary McCarthy, communications director of Ohioans For a Fair Minimum Wage, and he made a sharper distinction between a minimum wage ballot initiative and past anti-gay marriage ones. "Raising the minimum wage is a bridge issue and not a wedge issue. The fundamental premise is that you put something on the ballot that will give people the incentive to get out the vote. Minimum wage impacts people lives directly."

The minimum wage referendum is mobilizing working families and union members in Ohio, while simultaneously giving Democratic candidates the opportunity to talk about workers' rights. Sherrod Brown is using Issue 2 to talk about the power of the voters have to improve their lot. "We have the chance to give a raise to 500,000 Ohioans. The federal government has failed them – we can make up for it."

Ohio has about 1.1 million union and Working America members and the AFL-CIO and SEIU, among others, are running huge canvasses to get out the vote for the Democratic ticket. If Strickland, Brown, and other candidates for statewide office win, their victories will be a statement about Ohioans' desire to have politicians in office who will fight to protect working Americans and build a fair economy. Beltway cognoscenti take note: They will have won as Democrats who demanded accountability and who unabashedly spoke to voters about their support for workers' rights.

I've been in Columbus, Ohio since Saturday morning as part of the AFL-CIO's Labor 2006 program that's sending bloggers to cover key races and the voter mobilizations that are taking place to achieve victory on November 7th. Adam Conner and Nancy Scola are blogging the Midwest and Pennsylvania, respectively, as part of the same program and their fantastic work can be found on MyDD. Photos from my trip can be seen on my Flickr feed.

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Matt Browner Hamlin

Matt Browner Hamlin