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Government and Politics

Now that his campaign has stumbled badly, what's FitzGerald's next step?
Political strategists debate how the final three months of his gubernatorial campaign will go

Karen Kasler
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald was already stretched financially when he cut this ad -- before his campaign ran into questions about a woman and a driver's license.
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In The Region:
It has been a tough month for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald.

Even before questions arose about why he was found in a parked car with a woman two years ago, his poll numbers and fundraising were lagging. Then came questions about why he had no driver’s license for the better part of a decade. Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler sat down with two campaign veterans to talk about what’s next for the FitzGerald campaign, if anything.

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Mark Weaver has been an advisor to Republicans from Ronald Reagan to Mike DeWine to Betty Montgomery, and he still runs candidate and issue campaigns. He says the flap involving the woman and the driver’s license are just the latest in a string of problems for the Democratic candidate, and that by this point in the campaign, he has to know it.

Give up
“In his heart, Ed FitzGerald’s going to give up," Weaver says. "He won’t suspend his campaign necessarily, he won’t stop moving around the state. But everywhere he goes, it’ll be, ‘Why aren’t you raising money?’ ‘Why aren’t your poll numbers better?’ ‘How come you didn’t have a driver’s license for 10 years?’ Even if he’s not asked about the woman, he’ll get those questions over and over again, and in his heart he’ll say, ‘I can’t win.'”

Greg Haas was a key strategist for Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign and has also run other races, and he is the former head of the Franklin County Democratic Party. He says the problem is not the questions about the controversy. It is that there is no strong message that the campaign has that would override them.

Need a message and a map
“I haven’t heard or have been able to sort out from the campaign what is the road map to victory," Haas says. "And you need to put that in a package so people understand it and can see it. And if you don’t do that, then people are left to focus on all of these kinds of tactics or these distractions and things like that. You need to really show the public, particularly the opinion makers, this is how you win this thing.”

FitzGerald also sent out a letter to supporters this week, saying that a cancer scare with his son who is in remission has helped his family learn to focus on what really matters, but that he’s “not looking for sympathy." Haas says that is exactly what he means, that this health crisis has given FitzGerald some perspective on the race.

“I think that they were making clear where their priorities were and their focus," Haas says. "They’re not trying for sympathy anymore than John Kasich being on TV talking about his parents being killed in an auto accident. Is it trying for sympathy when you do things like that?”

More time with family
Weaver says he does not know enough about the situation to read into the e-mail.

“Sounds like for whatever reason, Ed FitzGerald wants to spend more time with his family right now, and he’s had a real hard week," Weaver says. "And when you’ve had a real tough week, I want to be with my family. So I don’t really understand with that e-mail. I’ve had several reporters say to me they’re not quite sure what it means. It may just mean that he wants to be with his family after a really hard week of some big political problems.”

Ohio Democratic Party chair Chris Redfern says the party was not aware that FitzGerald did not have a valid driver’s license, and that FitzGerald apologized profusely and told him that he was a horrible procrastinator. He does have a license now.

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