Influential Ohio Democrats are pushing former Cincinnati mayor and daytime-TV host Jerry Springer to run for Ohio governor in 2018, more than half a dozen Democrats familiar with the race told Business Insider.
Many said Springer, who sought the Democratic nomination for governor of Ohio in 1982 and remains active in state politics, could be a good fit for the current political climate.
Springer’s proponents have highlighted his ability in the era of President Donald Trump to provide his own funding for a campaign and to connect with working-class voters familiar with his television show and history in Ohio politics.
Those discussing a possible run with the talk-show host include Ted Strickland, the former Ohio governor who ran for Senate last year, said Tim Burke, the Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman. And several Democrats said recent conversations with Springer, as well as his schedule, suggested he seemed to be more seriously interested in running this time than in years past.
Hamilton County is home to Cincinnati, where Springer served as mayor in the late 1970s.
Strickland confirmed to Business Insider that he had discussed a potential run with Springer. He said he had also spoken with candidates such as Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, former state Rep. Connie Pillich, and the former state Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni.
Saying it was “a little early” to make any endorsement, he said he had “been doing whatever I could to encourage any of those who are talking about running … and I think it’s important that we win and that we have the strongest possible candidate.”
Strickland told Business Insider that Springer “certainly would start out with wide name recognition.”
“I think he has a very strong ability to communicate what I think is the heart of the Democratic message,” Strickland said, pointing to speeches Springer delivered to delegations at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last summer. “I think he is a superb communicator.”
The daytime talk-show host is set to keynote the Geauga County Democratic Party dinner next month. In April, the 73-year-old Springer also keynoted a similar dinner for the Sandusky County Democratic Party, at which he said he did not “need” to “run for office.”
He’s also met repeatedly with many Ohio Democrats and state power brokers.
One state Democratic leader told Business Insider that in a recent conversation, Springer did not rule out a bid, saying he would consider running if he was “needed by the party.”
Burke said he did not “think Jerry has said no, but he certainly hasn’t said yes, either.”
“On the other hand, he’s been into a good number of our Democratic county party organisation events, a good number of them recently have been in Ohio’s 2nd Congressional District,” he added.
The 2nd District in Ohio is just east of Cincinnati, encompassing much of Southwest Ohio. Burke, who said Springer was the county party’s largest donor annually, said it remained to be seen whether Springer’s increased presence at local events was a sign of a possible run.
“Jerry every year does a lot of Ohio Democratic Party county events,” Burke said. “And whenever he does them, he always draws a good crowd. He continues to have a very real interest in Ohio politics.”
Springer told Business Insider on Tuesday that he will “let people know” if he decides to run for office.
“The issue of me running for political office frequently comes up because I am constantly touring around, giving speeches and raising money for the party,” he said in a statement. “Truthfully, I’ve been doing that for at least the last 30 years as a private citizen because I believe joining the conversation is part of being a good citizen. If I do ever decide to throw my hat in the ring…I will let people know. At this point…I don’t even have a hat.”
If he were to enter the race, he’d have stiff primary competition.
Schiavoni, Pillich, Whaley, and former US Rep. Betty Sutton have already declared their candidacies. Several other prominent contenders are viewed still as possibilities to jump into the race, including Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Strickland compared the lengthy list of declared and possible candidates, all of whom are or would be seeking to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. John Kasich, to the 2016 Republican presidential primary field.
With a crowded field, Burke said he wasn’t “ready to go that far” and say whether a Springer run was a real possibility.
“I will agree that there have been a significant number of smart, leading folks from the Ohio Democratic Party or who have held Ohio Democratic Party elected positions who have talked to Jerry about this,” he said.
Other Democrats are hesitant about Springer’s bid, a Democratic operative told Business Insider. Critics have cited his past controversies and well-known platform as host of “The Jerry Springer Show” as a distraction, saying Democrats already had numerous qualified candidates seeking the position.
It’s not the first time a possible Springer candidacy has been rumoured since his failed 1982 campaign. Most notably, he considered runs for US Senate from Ohio in 2000 and 2004, ultimately deciding against doing so.
Speaking with The Cincinnati Enquirer in February, Springer, who painted himself as a “populist, liberal progressive,” said the idea of his candidacy gained steam because of Trump’s victory.
“What’s probably giving it more juice this time is the Trump victory,” Springer told The Enquirer. “People are thinking that somebody outside the traditional political establishment can win. His constituency is basically mine. These are fans of the show. I could be Trump without the racism.”
Springer called that constituency “ignored.”
“That ought to be the constituency of the Democratic Party,” he said. “Trump has misled these people. They’re not helped by deregulation. They’re not helped by getting rid of healthcare. These people are being duped.”
Springer happens to be no stranger to political controversy.
He resigned from Cincinnati City Council in 1974 after it became public knowledge that he used a check to pay a prostitute, though he won a seat back on the council the following year. When he sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1982, Springer cut a well-known ad to kick off his campaign in which he opened up about the past controversy.
“I spent time with a woman I shouldn’t have,” Springer said in the ad. “I paid her with a check. I wish I hadn’t done that.”
Springer won more than 20% of the vote in the primary, finishing last among three contenders.
But in the age of Trump, Springer is getting renewed consideration.
John Green, a distinguished professor of political science at the University of Akron, told Business Insider in an email that “under ordinary circumstances, a candidate like Springer would not be an especially strong prospect for governor.”
“For one thing he has been out of Ohio politics for some time,” Green said. “But given the success of Trump, a candidate like Springer might be successful. The Democrats have a number of declared candidates, but most are unknown outside of own area and none have held state-wide office. So there is an opportunity for an unconventional candidate with name recognition.”
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