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Swift boat travels fast

Matt Westerhold • Sep 8, 2012 at 8:12 AM

Be sure to get a copy of Thursday's Register to read a response from Erie County Democratic Party chairwoman Amy Grubbe to Sunday's "Between the Lines" column, which is re-published below in its entirety. 

Swift boat travels fast

It was just a few years back when a far-right wing of the GOP took Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s greatest political asset and flip-flopped it into a liability. Kerry, the other senator from Massachusetts, served in the U.S. Army with distinction during the Vietnam War.

Bobby Jack Perry, a Texas homebuilder, pumped in almost $5 million to the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which included members who served alongside Kerry in Vietnam. Kerry was a commander of one of many river patrol boats that saw some of the most fierce battles in the war. Lingering anger at Kerry’s decision in 1971 to return his medals in protest of the war motivated some members of the group.

Kerry lost the 2004 election to incumbent President George W. Bush, and the group, by its name and its tactics, invented a political dirty trick and a verb, simultaneously. The action in the name changed the landscape of politics, adding to the partisan firestorm fueled by distrust and competing allegiances.

Candidates from President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan all are forever on guard against getting “swift boated,” the latest and greatest dirty trick in a tool box of sleazy tactics evolved over thousands of years.

Tomorrow marks the traditional start of the campaign season, but voters already have been pelted with messages from the campaigns and the “autonomous” PACs for many months, it feels like years. Campaigning for president has become a full-time job, and it’s become a neverending cycle during the past many cycles to the point where it can be difficult to distinguish where one ends and the next begins.

Local politics could become the distraction from nauseating television messages, and the two-party partisan parade is already happening here at home. The dividing lines are blurred a bit, given the alliances among Republican Jude Hammond and incumbent county treasurer JoDee Fantozz. Hammond, who is running against one-term incumbent Pat Shenigo, fired off a missive recently attacking Shenigo at his core and criticizing the Register’s reporting on county issues.

Reporter Andy Ouriel is working on a story about it, but a check of balance sheets and a fresh look at the previous reporting verifies the information the Register provided on the topics — county debt, NASA Plum Brook, county spending — strongly suggests Hammond doesn’t have many facts to bolster his claims.

But Shenigo does have advantages when it comes to media relations, a fact Hammond will inevitably raise with a fuss. Shenigo argues the way to have good relations with the media is to have the facts on your side and be able to talk about them. Shenigo can talk, nobody would argue that. But he’s also been the action commissioner in all four years of his first term.

He’s taken turns with retired U.S. Air Force Gen. David Stringer driving the bus to promote NASA Plum Brook and commercial development along U.S. 250. He’s built consensus and forced through cuts in government spending that helped reduce the county’s deficit from $130 million in 2010 to $104 million today, and enabled the county to establish a countywide land bank.

The dividing line between local Democrats and Republicans gets blurred because the GOP is weak around these parts,andtheDemocratic Party chairwoman, Amy Grubbe, doesn’t have a lot of love for Shenigo. Shenigo defeated Grubbe’s favored Democrat in the primary election four years ago, and defeated her latest favored candidate again this past March in the primary for the Party’s nomination.

The only incumbent commissioner Grubbe pulls for is Tom Ferrell Jr., who hasn’t had much to say for years. Ferrell is locked in a four-man race that might be going his way. With two independents and a Republican all vying to knock him out after six terms, Ferrell could still have enough of an advantage with Democrats to hold off the challenge. But it’s never wise to predict the outcome of a race whenever you divide the electorate by more than two.

Independent candidate Dick Brady tried to force the Republican appointee, Steve Kraus, off the ballot, citing the Ohio Revised Code’s “sore loser” law. Democrats and Republicans on the county elections board on Friday unanimously voted to keep Kraus on the ballot, stepping through a pre-determined eye of a needle within the law that was reserved in case there was a challenge.

The law seems clear in its intent to stop candidates from seeking multiple offices in an election year, but the board and Ohio Secretary of State John Husted’s office cleared Kraus to remain on the ballot. Kraus had been a candidate earlier this year for the 9th District U.S. Congressional office. Brady fought the good fight and argued the ORC language was clear. He blamed partisan control by Republicans and Democrats for the decision, but said he’s moving on.

Husted has his own trouble. A judge on Friday ruled Ohio must open its early voting period to include the last weekend before the Nov. 6 election. Husted has been so desperate to please national Republicans and deliver Ohio for Mitt Romney that suppressing the voting period has been job No. 1 for him all year.

While the pro-Kraus vote by the county elections board was a win-win for Democrats and Republicans, the early voting and suppression battle is a to-death showdown for Obama and Romney. Win Ohio and win the presidency.

Husted’s efforts to suppress the vote is all about winning it for Mitt. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine also plans to appeal the ruling by the U.S. District Court. He, too, is working on behalf of the Romney campaign, in my opinion, not for Ohio voters. The final outcome of this court battle could be the single-most decisive moment in the presidential race.

The partisan divide nationally and statewide has spread locally, and early voting might help Ferrell in his four-man race to retain hisseatforanunprecedented seventh term. Hard politics also could play out in that race and the Shenigo-Hammond race given Hammond’s early bomb-dropping tactics.

That disconnect between Grubbe from the local Party’s leaders — Shenigo and Bill Monaghan — makes it a volatile campaign season, indeed, even if her behavior is boorish and bullying. Fantozz’s favored standing with Grubbe and Hammond’s favored standing with Fantozz makes it an even more interesting mix, and add the perennial GOP standardbearer Jeff Krabill into the pot and there could be some interesting dynamics in the weeks ahead.

Stay tuned.


Note: This column has been modified to make a correction regarding the military branch in which NASA Plum Brook director U.S. Air Force retired Gen. David Stringer served.  

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