Will the Ohio Republican Party cement their minority status by backing anti-gun Mike DeWine for Attorney General?
- George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905
By Chad D. Baus
In 2006, the Ohio Republican Party employed a strategy of supporting candidates with state-wide name recognition (and anti-gun records) over pro-gun candidates that were less well-known.
The state party, under the control of then-Chairman Bob Bennett, backed anti-gun Jeanette Bradley over pro-gun Sandy O'Brien for Treasurer, and anti-gun candidate Betty Montgomery over pro-gun candidate Tim Grendell for Attorney General.
Believing that "O'Brien can't win" in November, party leaders sunk the party's resources into Bradley. Despite having earned statewide name recognition while serving as Lt. Governor in the Taft administration, and despite her opponent having almost no resources (in comparison to the Ohio Republican Party-backed candidate), pro-gun Sandy O'Brien defeated anti-gun Jeanette Bradley in the primary.
Betty Montgomery, meanwhile, who once infamously told Buckeye Firearms Association Chairman Jim Irvine she would "never be the candidate of the NRA", won her primary, but was defeated in November - by a far lesser known and less well-funded (but pro-gun!) Democrat.
Is history about to repeat itself, just one state-wide election cycle later? Will the Ohio Republican party, under the new leadership of Chairman Kevin DeWine, continue the failed strategy of supporting candidates with name recognition over those with a record of strong support for gun rights?
The 2010 race for Attorney General is shaping up to be an excellent bellwether.
The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that former U.S. Senator Mike DeWine, who lost his seat in 2006, has filed a designation of treasurer statement with the Ohio secretary of state's office, a move which will allow him to begin raising funds.
DeWine has not said what office he plans to seek, but many political observers believe he has an eye on the attorney general's office. Given that Delaware County Prosecutor Dave Yost has already declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination for Attorney General, DeWine's move could signal a 2006 deja-vu all over again, pitting vehemently anti-gun DeWine's strong name recognition against the lesser well-known, pro-gun Yost.
Has the Ohio Republican Party learned its lesson? If so, they will quickly signal their support for Dave Yost's campaign, and begin funneling dollars his way. Or, rather, will they decide to back the anti-gun, name recognition candidate, Mike DeWine?
Let's be clear about one thing. Even with party support, Mike DeWine is destined for the same fate Jeanette Bradley and Betty Montgomery suffered in 2006.
The most likely scenario is that he will lose in the primary, leaving the party and media "experts" to once again wonder how a little-known candidate like Prosecutor Yost beat a former U.S. Senator.
If DeWine somehow defeats Yost in the primary, he will find himself facing a pro-gun Democrat, incumbent Richard Cordray, come November.
Either way, DeWine will go back into the political dust bin with the last two well-known anti-gun Republican candidates.
Ask an Ohio Republican Party official today, and they'll be happy to tell you that Republicans are the pro-gun, pro-Second Amendment party. But in recent years, the party has given voters plenty of reasons to doubt that claim, both politically (by backing anti-gun candidates in primaries where a pro-gun candidate is also running), and legislatively.
On the legislative side, and despite having controlled both branches of the General Assembly from 1994 through 2008 (and the Governor's mansion for all of that time, plus three years), it took more than 70% of that time to pass a concealed carry law - and that one of the most restrictive, difficult-to-follow laws of its kind in the nation.
In those many years, pro-gun activists found themselves fighting more with Republicans (George Voinovich, and the aforementioned Bob Taft, Betty Montgomery and Mike DeWine top the list) than with anyone in the Democratic party.
State Republican leaders can point to recent improvements in the form of statewide preemption of local gun control laws, Castle Doctrine legislation, and the reform of the most egregious provisions of the original concealed carry law, but the truth is that in many cases, GOP caucus leadership, especially in the Senate, had to be dragged kicking and screaming to pass these improvements. At the end of their nearly two decades in power, the State of Ohio remains saddled with severely archaic firearms laws.
In the wake of GOP losses at the ballot box over the past two election cycles, the media has been preoccupied with covering various aspects of the Republican party's attempts to "rebrand" itself, both in Ohio and nationally.
As party leaders continue their soul-searching, they had better be considering the reasons for which they lost their hold on what has historically been one of the most loyal voter segments - gun owners and hunters - and making plans to regain their trust.
If the state Republican party tries to tip another primary by throwing its money behind an anti-gun candidate instead of a pro-gun candidate, due to concerns over name recognition, they are going to ensure their status as the minority party in Ohio for a long time to come.
Chad Baus is a Member of the Fulton County, OH Republican Central Committee and the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.