Party chairman: ‘Ad clearly hurt’ candidate in razor-thin local statehouse race

The winner of the 43rd District Ohio House race between the incumbent Republican, Rep. J. Todd Smith, left, and Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley, a Democrat, remained uncertain after Election Day. SUBMITTED
The winner of the 43rd District Ohio House race between the incumbent Republican, Rep. J. Todd Smith, left, and Montgomery County Commissioner Dan Foley, a Democrat, remained uncertain after Election Day. SUBMITTED

With a mandatory recount over, a local party leader says the narrow outcome of an Ohio House race might have been reversed if not for a late attack against Democrat Dan Foley in a television ad by an outside Republican group.

The recount ended Friday leaving Republican Rep. J. Todd Smith with an unchanged 137-vote victory over Foley in the 43rd District matchup.

ELECTION 2018: Midterm results

“I think that was probably a tipping point,” said Mark Owens, Montgomery County Democratic Party chairman. “Particularly in his race.”

Days before the election, a political action committee, Hardworking Ohioans, Inc., started airing an ad showing Foley, a sitting Montgomery County commissioner, being administered a field sobriety test by a Brookville police officer. Foley was ticketed only for speeding during the traffic stop recorded by a dash camera.

RELATED: County Commissioner Dan Foley accused in TV ad of misusing authority during traffic stop

House Democrats and a local police union that represents Brookville officers condemned the ad, claiming it suggested Foley took advantage his office and that officers acted unprofessionally.

But the damage was done to Foley, Owens said. Two polls conducted by the state party showed Foley with nine- and 10-point leads before the 30-second ad surfaced, he said.

“That ad clearly hurt — particularly from in Preble County where they don’t know him as well as they do in Montgomery County,” Owens said.

The district covers parts of Englewood, Clayton, Trotwood, western Montgomery County and all of Preble County. Foley picked up 63 percent of voters in Montgomery County but only a quarter of Preble County voters.

Other recounts

Results for Montgomery County clerk of courts and a Riverside roads levy also remained the same after mandatory recounts ended a little before noon Friday at the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

Republican Mike Foley kept 741 votes ahead of Democrat Russ Joseph in the clerk of courts race and an 8-mills Riverside roads levy failed by eight votes. Mike Foley is no relation to Dan Foley.

The recounts, which began Tuesday, dragged out because of printing errors traced to 39 aging voting machines, said Jan Kelly, the elections board director.

“They were equal opportunity jams,” Kelly said.

The printout problems required results to be rerun from computer cards, she said.

RELATED: Problems from old voting equipment slow Montgomery County recounts

About 30 elections board workers conducted the recounts, required by state law if the final margin is equal to or less than a half of a percent of total votes cast.

Owens said he was disappointed that Democrats lost both the close recount races but happy overall with the Nov. 6 election that saw the party take an open county commission seat, the recorder’s and auditor’s office races as well as a number of judicial seats.

The police union that represents officers in the Brookville department didn’t get involved to support one candidate over another, but because the political ad “really portrayed them as somewhat of a corrupt agency, almost as if they were giving the commissioner some sort of a break,” said John DiPietro, treasurer and past president and current treasurer of the Fraternal Order of Police, Ohio Lodge 117.

“It had characterized the Brookville Police Department very inaccurately and that was the reason for us getting involved in it. As time went on and not only talked to a lot of our own members but a lot of supporters and citizens we know, is that a lot of people don’t like these negative campaign ads,” DiPietro said.

RELATED: FOP Lodge denounces campaign ad, issues support for Brookville police

Dan Foley was pulled over June 23 by Brookville police for driving 44 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone, according to police records. Foley said he told the officer that he had one beer earlier that day. Foley said he passed a field sobriety test, was ticketed for speeding and paid his fine a few days later.

Ohio House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, called the ad “an act of desperation” and “shameful.”

“This ad impugns the reputation of the ticketing officer, and suggests corruption within the department despite zero evidence,” Strahorn said after the ad first aired at the end of October.

DiPietro said campaign ads should describe how candidates plan to lift up communities, not tear down opponents.

“I believe myself and as a leader of the FOP that candidates should be talking about what they are going to do to improve the quality of life for its citizens,” he said. “Sadly, the way politics works there’s a lot of different groups that get involved and they have their own agendas and they try to get other people to buy into their agendas and may provide them support.”

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