COLUMBUS It may be the dog days of summer, but the money race for who could be the next speaker of the Ohio House is just warming up.
In a show of fund-raising muscle, Rep. Mark Wagoner, the sophomore Republican from Ottawa Hills, contributed $150,000 from his own committee to the Ohio House Republican Campaign Committee on June 30, the last day of the six-month reporting period covered by documents filed yesterday.
In a contest that has largely been under the radar to date, the 35-year-old attorney is vying to become the first House speaker from Lucas County and the first from northwest Ohio since Republican Charles F. Kurfess of Wood County served from 1967 to 1972.
The contest between the soft-spoken Mr. Wagoner and the gregarious Rep. Bill Batchelder (R., Medina) is largely a tussle between the new guard and the old.
Although technically a freshman in this new age of term limits, Mr. Batchelder, 64, is a veteran lawmaker and former judge who returned to the General Assembly this year after having previously served three decades in the chamber.
Yesterday, Mr. Wagoner would say only that he is a candidate for caucus leadership as part of a broader coalition.
The House Republican Caucus likes how hard I m working, he said. People are appreciative of the efforts I ve put together to put us in a competitive position to pick up seats in 2008. I m not only doing fund-raising, I m working to make sure our members are doing what they need to do to get re-elected.
Mr. Batchelder could not be reached for comment.
Among Democrats mentioned as making their move for minority leader, if not potentially House speaker, are Reps. Todd Book (D., Portsmouth) and Jennifer Garrison (D., Marietta), both sophomores, and Rep. Matthew Szollosi (D., Toledo), a freshman.
All contributed large shares of what they raised in the last half-year to the House Democratic Caucus Fund, but their individual numbers were nowhere near what Mr. Wagoner contributed to his caucus.
While the Democratic caucus raised a robust $590,935 during the first half of the year and had $420,430 in cash on hand, the Republican caucus raised $1.9 million and was still sitting on $1.7 million of that on June 30.
Republicans are working to hold onto the chamber in 2008 after surrendering seven seats in a GOP bloodbath in 2006. Democrats must pick up four more seats in the 99-member chamber next year to regain control.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern, a term-limited state representative from Catawba Island, said he believes there s a slim chance Republicans would retain control.
Democratic members have to start working harder, he said. When I m on the road, I m beginning to see Mark Wagoner very often. My Democratic colleagues need to be as aggressive as my Republican colleagues are.
In all, campaign filings with the secretary of state s office show Mr. Wagoner, who represents much of western Lucas County, has contributed a total of $373,500 to the GOP s House campaign coffers since 2003.
He raised a total of $171,425 in the latest period, mostly from political action committees.
By comparison, Mr. Batchelder reported raising a total of $116,450 during the first half of the year, giving $25,000 of that to the House GOP campaign committee. A review of campaign finance filings over the years shows he has contributed a total of $32,035 to the caucus since 1992.