Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (D) confirmed months of speculation Monday and announced the first step in a campaign to unseat Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) in next year's election.
FitzGerald used a three-minute YouTube video to announce the creation of an exploratory committee for his gubernatorial campaign and to launch what he is describing as a statewide listening tour. The 44-year-old former FBI agent has been long expected to launch a run against Kasich.
The Ohio governor's race is expected to be one of the most competitive in the country in 2014, with Democrats seeking to regain the chief executive's office in the swing state. Kasich has been a target for labor groups after he signed legislation to take collective bargaining rights away from public workers. The legislation was later repealed during a 2011 statewide referendum.
“If you’re tired of state government taking its cues from the wealthy and well-connected instead of Ohio’s middle class, join me," FitzGerald said in the video. “If you’re tired of a status quo that passes the buck to local communities, while you get nickled and dimed to death, join me.”
FitzGerald used the video to highlight his background, including his FBI service where he worked on organized crime and political corruption investigations in the Chicago region. He also mentioned his service as mayor of the Cleveland, Ohio, suburb of Lakewood and his work as the first county executive in the state's largest county.
FitzGerald started taking steps last summer towards a potential gubernatorial bid, including delivering a statewide response to Kasich's speech to the Republican National Convention. In November, he criticized Kasich for a new statewide economic development advertising campaign, which FitzGerald said was aimed at boosting Kasich's political fortunes rather than the state economy (a charge Kasich's spokesman denied). Following former Gov. Ted Strickland's (D) decision in January not to enter the governor's race, FitzGerald has been viewed as the likely Democratic opponent against Kasich. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D) has also been mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate.
Campaign finance reports indicate that Kasich leads the money race against FitzGerald with the governor having $1.5 million on hand at the end of 2012 while the Democrat had $181,000. A February poll showed Kasich leading FitzGerald 45-percent to 35-percent. A spokesman for Kasich could not immediately reached for comment about FitzGerald's announcement.
In addition to the governor's race, Ohio Democrats are expected to target Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) and state Treasurer Josh Mandel (R) for defeat in 2014. Both have been seen as likely candidates for higher office and Mandel lost to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) in one of the most competitive 2012 Senate races in the country.