Ohio has long been known as a battleground state because it often plays a pivotal role in deciding presidential elections. Although the state has a mere 18 electoral votes, Ohio is often a barometer of the nation’s political mood. A down-ticket race that hasn’t garnered much national attention — but should — is the contest to be Ohio’s next secretary of state. Two state lawmakers, Republican Frank LaRose and Democrat Kathleen Clyde, are vying for the position that the Democratic candidate has said could impact the 2020 presidential election.
Kathleen Clyde, who, as a member of the Ohio House introduced the TRUMP Act last year to try and force President Trump to release his tax returns, has vowed to play a role in the 2020 presidential election should she win next Tuesday. Clyde, who did not return PJM’s request for a comment, said in February, “It is a very powerful and important position, impacting the presidential election because of our importance as a battleground state and the redistricting process” [emphasis added]. She explained, “It matters who runs the elections in this critical state.”
LaRose, 39, is a combat veteran and U.S. Army Special Forces Green Beret, who earned a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq. The father of three has served in the Ohio Senate since 2011. Clyde, also 39, has served in the Ohio House since 2011. A lawyer by trade, Clyde, according to her website, is a “dedicated defender of voters and voting rights” who “wants to take her life’s work to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office to secure and modernize Ohio elections so every Ohioan’s vote counts.”
A Baldwin-Wallace University poll earlier this month showed the race in a dead heat, with LaRose and Clyde deadlocked at 32.6 percent. A Libertarian candidate, Dustin Hanna, had 7.2 percent, while nearly a third of voters were undecided, likely owing to the fact that neither candidate had statewide name recognition going into the contest.
The fact that impacting the election is on Clyde’s mind “should give every Ohioan great cause for concern,” LaRose told PJM. “Let me be clear. The secretary of state does not get to impact Ohio’s election, the voters do.” LaRose added that if he’s elected to be Ohio’s next chief elections officer, he “will run fair elections, assuring that the voices of Ohioans are heard.”
But Democrats clearly have a different idea. That’s why Democrats far and wide — from Hillary Clinton to Elizabeth Warren to Eric Holder to Tom Steyer — are focusing their attention on the race and pouring pallets full of cash into it.
Grant Schaffer, LaRose’s campaign manager, told PJM, “We’re facing an unprecedented wave of out-of-state spending in the secretary of state’s race. National figures like George Soros, Donald Sussman, Eric Holder, Tom Steyer and his wife, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Hilary Clinton have all made large personal investments in the race.” All, he said, “have publicly stated interests in defeating Trump or want to run for president themselves.” He said outside groups like OMG-WTF and iVote are targeting the race.
The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State vowed to raise “seven figures in seven states,” including Ohio, according to a report at Time. The group’s president, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, said that Democrats are looking for candidates who will support “automatic voter registration, pre-registration for teenagers, and the expansion of programs like vote-by-mail, as opposed to those more often championed by Republicans including implementing voter ID and cross-checking voter registrations with other state databases,” according to Time.
The Columbus Dispatch reported that the organization “plans to raise money and provide guidance to a handful of candidates in 2018, including in Ohio, in hopes that electing Democrats into this state post will prove important in the 2020 presidential election” [emphasis added].
The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder and supported by former President Barack Obama, is targeting states like Ohio, where they hope to break the stronghold of Republican-led governments. The New York Times reported that the group “intends to pour millions of dollars into an eclectic array of elections in a dozen states, in an effort to block Republicans from single-handedly drawing congressional maps after 2020.”
If past history is a predictor, if LaRose wins, Democrats will spend the next two years blanketing the state with lawsuits aimed at loosening election laws and handcuffing election officials who seek to prevent voter fraud and secure the state’s elections. In fact, there are three lawsuits currently pending against the state, dating back to 2006, challenging Ohio’s election laws. And a federal judge ruled in favor of a voting rights group this week, ordering the state to allow Ohio voters who had been purged from the rolls for not voting over a six-year period to participate in the current election.
PJM legal editor J. Christian Adams agreed that a Democratic secretary of state in Ohio could impact the 2020 election. “Look at what just happened,” he said, referring to the federal judge’s ruling this week. Adams, who is also president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation and founder of the Election Law Center, added, “The current secretary of state decided to undertake effective list maintenance. Clyde disagrees with effective list maintenance and will allow dead and ineligible voters to stay on the rolls. That’s what happened under [former Ohio secretary of state] Jennifer Brunner, one of the worst secretaries of state in the nation in over two decades.”
Democrats can’t win statewide elections in Ohio, so they routinely turn to the courts to enact their policy proposals. So, win or lose, Democrats will indeed find a way to impact the 2020 election.
If Clyde wins, it will be easier for Democrats to have their way with everything from the voter rolls to the security of elections. LaRose wants to make sure that doesn’t happen. “From your local board of elections to the chief elections officer of Ohio, nobody entrusted with the sacred responsibility of administering elections should ever think of how they can impact the outcome of the contest,” he said.
Although LaRose thinks voter fraud in Ohio is rare, he said it’s important to take “reasonable steps” to protect the ballot box. “As a state senator, I sponsored the legislation that directed a state investigation that found that hundreds of non-citizens were registered to vote, and dozens had voted illegally,” he said. “I also introduced the legislation that created ‘risk-limiting audits’ of elections so people can be sure our results are valid.”
“Securing our elections is critical,” LaRose said. “We live in a time when foreign actors and others are trying to meddle with our democracy, and we can’t allow them to succeed. They have a saying in the military: ‘the bad guys only have to be right once, the good guys have to be right every time.’ I’ll take this part of the job very seriously, and I believe my counterintelligence training with the U.S. Special Forces gives me a unique skill set to work with our expert staff and keep Ohio’s elections secure.”
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