While endorsements might not mean as much as they did a half century ago, state Rep. Tim Derickson is collecting them like baseball cards nonetheless in his bid to succeed former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner in Congress.
All but one elected official at the county level in Butler gave Derickson their stamp of approval Monday, and several top state-level office holders, including Ohio Senator Chris Widener, have also vouched for the Hanover Twp. Republican as the choice for Ohio’s 8th Congressional District seat.
John Forren, a political science professor at Miami University in Oxford, said the groundswell of support for Derickson among local and state politicians is creating “a general sense of inevitability” about his candidacy. While the endorsements probably won’t influence many Republican primary voters, Forren said he also can’t say that “this collective endorsement won’t matter at all.”
Forren called the Derickson campaign’s releasing of a list of all those who endorse him “a particularly smart” move. He said it sends the message that Derickson is separating himself from the crowded field and gaining momentum.
“When a candidate succeeds in creating an appearance of inevitability like that, it can be very helpful in rallying undecided primary voters to their cause,” Forren said.
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One undecided voter appears to be Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones. He is the only elected official in the county who hasn’t signed off on Derickson yet. Jones, who at one time contemplated a run at Boehner’s seat, is considered by many locals as an influential figure in Butler County politics whose endorsement would carry some weight.
But Jones told the Journal-News on Monday that he’s not ready to endorse anyone just yet.
“I’m taking my time. I want to see what they stand for,” Jones said of the 16 Republicans vying for the 8th District seat. “I may endorse someone, and I may not.”
The sheriff said he plans to meet with all of the congressional candidates and is looking for someone who can “lead the country.” That may or may not be someone from Butler County, he said.
Derickson, who declared his candidacy in October, called Jones “a very strong man” with whom he enjoys a “really good relationship.” He said he hopes to eventually earn the sheriff’s endorsement.
“The sheriff and I are very much of agreement on the immigration issues,” Derickson said, noting it is just one of the issues he and Jones’ see eye to eye on. “For me, there are so many laws on the book now that are not enforced. I have been supportive of a wall to reduce this flow of illegal immigration, and deporting those who commit crimes in the United States.”
Boehner, of West Chester Twp., resigned from office after 25 years in Washington, D.C., this past October. As a result, candidates came out of the woodwork from across the district, which includes all of Butler, Clark, Darke, Miami and Preble counties and the southernmost part of Mercer county.
Butler is the largest county in the district with roughly half of its 723,000 residents living there. Clark County is the second-largest.
Last week, Ohio’s No. 2 senator, Senate President Pro Tempore Chris Widener, R-Springfield — along with other notable Clark County Republicans — also endorsed Derickson.
Cedarville University political science professor Mark C. Smith said these endorsements do mean something.
“Endorsements also imply access to networks of donors and volunteers that are clustered around those office holders,” he said. “In that sense, it is a very big deal, considering how much Butler County dominates the district in terms of population.”
Smith said Derickson definitely has the inside track to the nomination if his campaign can turn that support from the political establishment into votes at the polls March 15.
“However, this, of all years, should give us pause,” he said. “We are witnessing, at least at the national level, a frayed relationship, to put it mildly, between the party leadership and the actual voters.”
Anti-establishment figures — such as Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who are leading national polls for the Republican presidential nomination — are showing voters’ desire to buck the system. But how that sentiment will impact the race in the 8th Congressional District, which overwhelmingly kept Boehner — who had been viewed as an establishment politician — in office for a quarter century.
“If it does, these endorsements may not mean as much,” Smith said. “I think, though, that given the compressed calendar of a special election, unless one outsider candidate can mobilize voters quickly, candidates like Derickson and (State Sen. Bill Beagle, R-Tipp City) are in the best position to contend.”
Forren added that voters will likely jump on the Derickson bandwagon if he is perceived as “emerging from the pack” because voters, not unlike sports fans, like to root for a winner. He said Derickson was also aided by then-front-runner Butler County Roger Reynolds’ withdrawal from the race last month. Reynolds subsequently endorsed Derickson as well.
“Derickson’s opponents likely have been banking strategically on a split in the Butler County Republican ranks,” said Forren. “But with Roger Reynolds out of the race — and now virtually the entire Republican establishment in Butler County lining up behind Derickson — it certainly helps to create the sense that Butler County, the largest block of Republican voters in the district, is firmly in the Derickson camp.”