If it's January 2003, it must be time to think about November 2004.
And not just because of the race for president. At the inauguration of Gov. Bob Taft last week in Columbus, there was plenty of talk about local races.
During a chilly moment outside the Ohio Theater across the street from the state capitol building, state Rep. Lynn Olman joked about how relaxed Mr. Taft seemed during his swearing-in ceremony.
It must be because he is term-limited and doesn't have to worry about the next election, Mr. Olman surmised.
Then it struck him. Now, at the beginning of his own fourth full term, he also is term-limited in the state House. Hey, why not let loose a little bit? Swing for the fences. Maybe introduce a bill proclaiming Tony Packo's as the official state hot dog.
Then a wry smile crept across the broad face of the Maumee Republican, and his mind was open for the reading: he may be done in the General Assembly, but his political life is far from over if he decides to run for Lucas County commissioner.
In recently choosing someone to fill the vacancy created last month by the retirement of Commissioner Bill Copeland, a top concern of Lucas County Democrats was finding someone who could withstand a challenge from Mr. Olman next year. Insiders said they considered but turned away from Toledo Councilman Wade Kapszukiewicz largely because, at age 30, he has the face of a teenager and seems too young and inexperienced.
Instead, they settled on Tina Skeldon Wozniak, a 47-year-old with more council experience and a good political name.
Olman v. Wozniak could be a good race, but not the best one on the ballot next year.
Not if there turns out to be anything to the juicy gossip seeping from underneath the door of the Lucas County auditor's office. There, Republican insiders confirm, incumbent Larry Kaczala is plotting the ultimate challenge next year - a race against 11-term Congressman Marcy Kaptur.
Mr. Kaczala, who tried to launch a statewide campaign for Ohio treasurer last year before backing out, has for years indicated faint interest in the 9th Congressional seat. Now that Maggie Thurber has seen to it that he is no longer the lone Republican holding countywide, non-judicial office, he may figure that now is a good time to re-establish his pre-eminence in the local GOP.
Nothing would accomplish that like a win over Miss Kaptur.
The good news for Mr. Kaczala is that he has nothing but some shoe leather to lose. He will be mid-term as auditor next year and can challenge her without risk of losing his current office.
But money might be a problem. His final finance report filed last month shows $141.52 in his campaign war chest.
Miss Kaptur has 5,492 times more money - a total of $774,357 on hand, according to opensecrets.org, a Web site that uses federal campaign finance report filings to keep track of Congress.
She spent $329,092 beating Republican Ed Emery last year in what could safely be called political overkill.
Now to 2005, and the only question on local lips: Is Carty Finkbeiner going to try to recapture his old office by challenging Toledo Mayor Jack Ford?
The would-be competitor is still engaged in local politics. He was on the radio last week spouting a strategy to re-energize the slow-moving East Toledo Marina District development. He remains involved in other issues via his weekly public affairs TV show, and supporters say he keeps in touch.
Carty may see an opening after Mr. Ford's State of the City speech last week on live television, part of which highlighted such exciting items as the “lining of Point Place sewers” and “construction of the Shantee Creek Phase 1 and 2 projects, the Eisenbaum Phase 1 Project, and the Tifft Phase 2 Project” - which were probably very inspirational jobs to the handful of wastewater engineers who worked on them.
By contrast, State of the City speeches were like small theatrical productions during the Carty years. Mr. Finkbeiner's proven willingness to step to center stage - if he feels so compelled - could provide us with 2005's greatest local political show.