COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Democrat Ed FitzGerald already had an uphill fight in his campaign to unseat a well-funded governor.
the little-known county executive is on the defensive over questions
about why he lacked a permanent driver's license for more than a decade,
an issue brought to the surface by 2012 police records that showed him
in an otherwise empty parking lot outside an office park at 4:30 a.m.
with a woman who isn't his wife.
FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County
executive, has apologized for letting his driver's license lapse from
2002 to 2012. He had several temporary permits starting in 2008, but he
lacked one for at least a year until he got a license. He also says
nothing inappropriate happened in the car, and police didn't cite him.
The woman was part of a visiting Irish delegation, and they were trying
to connect with others in the group traveling separately.
FitzGerald said opposition researchers seek the worst things to say about candidates during a campaign.
been around for 46 years, and this was what they've come up with," he
said Friday at an event in Port Clinton. "It doesn't mean I'm perfect
because I'm not. But every candidate has their shortcomings and this is
mine. And I don't offer any excuses about it."
come as FitzGerald should be trying to gain ground with voters less than
three months before Election Day. Instead, he's had to devote time from
campaigning to answer personal questions.
supporters in an email Saturday that he regretted that those questions
have detracted from pressing issues such as Lake Erie water quality.
"Instead, attention shifted to my carelessness, and that's entirely my fault," he wrote.
of thousands of people in Toledo and nearby southeastern Michigan were
unable to use tap water last weekend because of unsafe levels of a
contaminant in Lake Erie.
A re-election victory for GOP Gov. John
Kasich could give Republicans momentum in the presidential swing state
and possibly propel Kasich, a former congressman and Fox News
commentator, into the 2016 race for the White House.
former FBI agent and mayor of Lakewood, a Cleveland suburb, holds the
highest elected position in Ohio's most populous county. Yet almost
two-thirds of respondents in a July 24-28 Quinnipiac University poll
said they don't know enough about FitzGerald to form an opinion.
The poll of 1,366 registered voters found Kasich with a 12-point lead, 48 percent to FitzGerald's 36 percent.
Austin, a longtime Democratic consultant in Ohio, said it could be
difficult for FitzGerald to win over voters who have just learned about
him through the recent negative news.
"The only way he can turn
this around is by a-wishin' and a-hopin' that something happens with
Kasich that brings Kasich down," Austin said. Not a solid plan for
winning, he said, but "this is only August and strange things have
happened in campaigns."
Still, it could be too early in the race for Ohioans to develop any lasting impression of FitzGerald.
voters in gubernatorial elections don't pay much attention until after
Labor Day, said John Green, director of the University of Akron's Bliss
Institute of Applied Politics. He said FitzGerald's campaign has time to
become more effective.
But Green said the driver's license issue could resonant voters: "Every 16-year-old knows you have to have a driver's license."
personal troubles over the past week were compounded by fundraising
figures that show he's woefully behind his opponent.
finance reports filed Tuesday show Kasich raised about four times as
much as FitzGerald in a roughly two-month span. The governor had $9.3
million in the bank, compared with FitzGerald's $1.9 million, according
to June filings.
Green said FitzGerald doesn't have to match Kasich dollar-for-dollar but needs enough to get out his name and message.
to this point, FitzGerald has not been able to put enough money into
advertising to change his name recognition significantly," Green said.
Stuart Garson, chairman of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, said fundraising and messaging will always be tough.
"Because it's challenging doesn't make things impossible," Garson said. "Ed will stay on message. He's a great candidate."
Outside groups could help bolster FitzGerald's campaign, but he must show he's a viable candidate.
has released positive biographical TV ads about himself, while the
Republican Governors Association has gone on the attack. A negative ad
running statewide this week by the GOP organization portrays FitzGerald
as a "risky" choice.
The campaign says FitzGerald has no plans to
abandon the contest. Tuesday was the deadline for him to withdraw and
allow the party to appoint a replacement.
Asked whether she
foresaw any changes to the campaign's strategy, FitzGerald spokeswoman
Lauren Hitt said, "Nope, we're just going to push forward."
Press writers John Seewer in Port Clinton, Mark Gillispie in Cleveland
and Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.