Left to right Lucas County Democratic party chairman Ron Rothenbuhler, Lucas County Republican party chairman Jon Stainbrook , and Jeremiah VanBuren watch the presidential debate last month.
Once again, in what has become a quadrennial ritual in heavily Democratic Lucas County, voters looked down the list of offerings for the nine row offices and found no Republicans worthy of being awarded a majority of the votes.
All nine county offices on the ballot in the Nov. 6 election — two commissioners, prosecutor, sheriff, treasurer, clerk of courts, recorder, coroner, and engineer — went easily to Democrats in the tidal wave of votes to Democratic President Obama.
Republicans ran against five of them, but four were stymied by lack of name recognition and campaign funds.
The only Republican who spent enough money to require filing a campaign finance report was George Sarantou, an at-large Toledo city councilman who ran unsuccessfully for the open seat of recorder against Democrat Phil Copeland, also an at-large Toledo city councilman. Mr. Copeland, an official of Laborers Local 500, won 101,687 to 80,283.
The lack of success has prompted some Republicans to wonder whether the man in charge of the Lucas County Republican Party, Jon Stainbrook, has the ability to recruit candidates who can credibly compete with Democrats.
Jon Stainbrook says, for Republicans, it’s an uphill struggle in a county that is “run by Democrats from top to bottom.”
Mr. Stainbrook said it’s an uphill struggle in a county that is “run by Democrats from top to bottom.”
“Northwest Ohio is a union-Democrat stronghold. It has been for decades. That doesn’t mean that the Democrats cannot be challenged,” Mr. Stainbrook said Friday. He said it’s tough to overcome the power of a Democratic machine that manages to turn out voters who vote virtually straight Democratic tickets.
“George Sarantou is one of the most qualified candidates. Nobody knew who they were voting for on the other side. They just went D, D, D,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
Ron Rothenbuhler, Mr. Stainbrook’s counterpart in the Democratic Party, said Mr. Copeland was known to the voters, thanks to a contested Democratic primary and an effort by his labor supporters.
“After the primary with [Oregon City Councilman] Jim Seaman there was a lot of effort and expense to help him as a labor friend and as obviously a person that Democrats wanted to support. So not knowing who he was, I don't buy that,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said.
He said he believes that voters continue to reward Democrats in the row office elections “because they have done a good job.”
“I’m not surprised, and I don’t think anybody else is, that unions and Democrats of Lucas County are very supportive of the candidates that support labor issues and what we think are issues of working people,” Mr. Rothenbuhler said.
Praise for Stainbrook
For his efforts at mobilizing volunteers for door-to-door “lit drops,” organizing campaign events such as the rally for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the SeaGate Centre on Sept. 26, and his willingness to be a Republican spokesman to the news media, Mr. Stainbrook has won praise from the local, statewide, and presidential candidate operatives who depended on him to turn out out the Republican base.
Mr. Stainbrook’s GOP headquarters downtown before Election Day was a textbook party headquarters, filled with yard signs, campaign literature, volunteers talking to voters on telephones, and candidates milling around.
“He was extremely effective at carrying the party’s message in Lucas County,” said Christopher Maloney, communications director for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign in Ohio. “Chairman Stainbrook is widely regarded in Ohio as an effective communicator and always a disciplined messenger for the campaign.
“The hand which Chairman Stainbrook is dealt is an overwhelmingly Democratic, labor-driven political environment in Lucas County, and time and again, whether presidential, midterm or off-year, we have seen that Chairman Stainbrook has been able to marshal the limited resources he has to help turn out voters for Republicans,” Mr. Maloney said.
Amy Sabath, campaign manager for the Republican Ohio Supreme Court candidates, said that “whenever we need something done in Lucas County, he gets it done — whether literature distribution or signs put out.”
“And I think our numbers in Lucas County reflect that,” Ms. Sabath said.
Indeed, Lucas was the only one of the seven large Democratic counties in which incumbent Republican Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp of Lima won a majority.
But filling the ballot with quality candidates is a job that a county chairman can’t do by himself. It takes qualified candidates willing to step forward and make the effort.
Critics of Mr. Stainbrook say his style of leadership is too exclusive, that he creates enemies, especially in the suburban communities where Republicans are the most numerous.
Douglas Haynam, a Republican member of Sylvania City Council who was chairman in 2004, said the party should be grooming candidates in Republican communities such as Sylvania, Monclova Township, Maumee, and Springfield Township.
“It’s not happening now because frankly the suburban Republicans and Jon, we’re not getting along, and Jon sees us more as threats than as potential candidates for future office,” Mr. Haynam said.
Rob Ludeman, a South Toledo Republican and at-large city councilman, said there’s a “trust” issue between Mr. Stainbrook and the kinds of people with name recognition in the community who might stand a chance of winning an election.
“Obviously, the party inner circle needs to work a little harder and decide how they’re going to approach real elections other than just the elections for precinct chairs and chairman and central committee chairman,” Mr. Ludeman said.
Lucas County has not been welcoming territory to GOP candidates at the county level for a long time.
In none of the last six presidential elections, starting in 1988, has a Republican won a county row office.
Republicans were more successful in midterm elections, electing a GOP county auditor and county commissioner as recently as 2002, but the county offices have been solidly Democratic since the election year 2006.
Republicans have continued to win seats in both the common pleas and appeals courts, where candidates appear on the ballot without party label, and in Statehouse races that center on more heavily Republican areas in the western parts of Toledo and Lucas County.
Of the 22 local offices on the ballot in the most recent election, Democrats won 17 and Republicans won 5 — three judgeships and two Statehouse seats. That’s two more than Republicans won in 2008 and 2004 and equal to the five elected in 2000 and 1996.
“We cannot give the Democratic machine that runs Lucas County from the top to bottom a pass, and that’s why we had candidates this time who did very well, and we have a farm team of candidates to run in future elections,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
Among his farm-team candidates, he said, is Brent McCormack, a 31-year-old executive recruiter who lives in Sylvania Township. He came in second in a three-way race against Democratic County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak.
“Obviously, the voters liked our judicial candidates. We just have to work on making sure that they get to know our row-office candidates in the future so we can get some of them elected,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
Mr. Stainbrook said getting people to run, even if they don’t have much chance of success, still helps the party.
“By me running more candidates for more offices than my predecessors had, we made sure that people like [Democratic Lucas County Commissioner] Pete Gerken had to buy signs. That money stayed away from Mitt Romney, that money stayed away from [GOP U.S. Senate candidate] Josh Mandel,” Mr. Stainbrook said.
John Marshall, 59, a retired contractor who ran against Democratic County Commissioner Pete Gerken, said Mr. Stainbrook gave him a lot of encouragement.
“We didn't have a lot of money to work with in any of the campaigns,” Mr. Marshall said. “There was too big of a turnout. The Dems really got out there for Obama and thereby took all the row offices too. Perhaps there is a time, but not now."
Mr. Stainbrook said he expects the GOP will field a full slate of candidates in the next round of Toledo municipal elections, in 2013, as it did in 2009 and 2011. And he said he is talking to two potential candidates for mayor.
“I want to make sure we have a candidate. In this race it looks like it might be [incumbent Mayor] Mike Bell and [Lucas County Auditor] Anita Lopez. If so, the two people we’re courting would fit perfectly into the demographics of this race,” he said, declining to offer any further insight. Mr. Bell is a political independent and Ms. Lopez is a Democrat. Neither has declared candidacy for the race next year.
“Barack Obama winning the presidency did have a positive effect in that people realize what’s going to be and they’re very concerned and energized,” he said.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.