FitzGerald to stay in race, campaign says

Governor candidate admits he drove without a valid driver’s license.

The FitzGerald campaign has been rocked within the past week as news trickled out about a 2012 incident in which police caught him in a car at 4:30 a.m. with a woman who isn’t his wife and the driver’s license head-scratcher. Meanwhile, a new independent poll shows him 12 points behind Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who just raked in $2.3 million.

All of this raise serious questions about whether FitzGerald can weather the controversies and run a credible campaign against Kasich, a well-funded Republican incumbent.

FitzGerald would have had to withdraw from the ballot yesterday for the Ohio Democratic Party to then field a substitute by Monday, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

FitzGerald campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said FitzGerald is not considering withdrawing.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley said in her view FitzGerald apologized for driving without an Ohio license and explained the 4:30 a.m. traffic stop. “I just don’t see this to be a really big deal right now.”

Former Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Jim Ruvolo agreed. “ Obviously, he has not been having a good 10 days here, but none of it is fatal,” Ruvolo said.

University of Akron political scientist John Green agreed. “It’s too early to give up on the FitzGerald campaign based on other campaigns that we’ve seen here in Ohio. Campaigns often have bad weeks and many times they’re able to recover by emphasizing their positive message, whatever that might be. And sometimes the other candidate has trouble at one time or other. Challenging an incumbent is difficult and often challengers run behind in the summer and into the early fall.”

Here is a re-cap of FitzGerald’s recent news:

Last week he explained why he was stopped by Westlake Police at 4:30 a.m. Oct. 13, 2012, in a red Ford parked in a secluded lot with a woman who is not his wife. He said he was driving with Joanne Grehan, who was part of an Irish delegation he was entertaining that evening, and they stopped to get directions and call others in the group in another car.

This week it came to light that he has been driving on an expired Ohio driver’s license. Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicle records, which date back seven years, show he was issued temporary permits for March 2008 to March 2009, October 2010 to October 2011, and November 2011 to November 2012. The BMV records show his previous Ohio license expired in July 2002.

Hitt did not explain why FitzGerald lacked a license and whether he was unlicensed when he may have driven government-owned vehicles during his time as Lakewood mayor and Cuyahoga County executive. Driving with a temporary permit — which is typically issued to new drivers in training — requires a licensed driver in the car when the permit holder is at the wheel.

FitzGerald, 46, a former FBI agent and assistant county prosecutor, is the father of four — including kids who are old enough to have gone through the process of becoming licensed drivers.

Monthly campaign finance reports filed Tuesday show that Kasich raised $2.34 million and has $11.4 million cash on hand compared with $544,755 raised by FitzGerald and a war chest of just $2.44 million. FitzGerald’s report shows the Ohio Democratic Party gave him a $40,000 cash infusion on Tuesday.

Green said the lack of campaign cash, combined with anemic name identification, is a more serious problem for FitzGerald than news stories over his driver’s license and a traffic stop.

If FitzGerald fails to get back on track, he could derail his fellow Democrats who are running for attorney general, auditor, secretary of state, treasurer and other downticket races. Ruvolo said the rest of the ticket usually relies on the candidate for governor doing reasonably well.

University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said Kasich has been favored to win re-election and is now an even more substantial favorite.

An independent poll of registered voters last week by Quinnipiac University shows FitzGerald trailing Kasich by 12 points.

Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland said Kasich does not have the race in the bag yet and FitzGerald can win, though he needs to raise more money to get his message out to voters.

Sabato said Kasich is the front runner in the race.

“The tilt is Republican this year, and Kasich is a fairly popular incumbent,” he said. “Substituting candidates just a few months before the election is always risky. It can look desperate. Democrats may just have to grin and bear it, and hope that somehow FitzGerald rights his ship.”

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