Voters throughout the state of Ohio will head to the polls next Tuesday to cast their votes on a number of various issues of local importance.
Republican voters will also choose between a crowded field of candidates to see who will square off against Congressman Tim Ryan from Youngstown, who is heavily favored win the Democratic nomination to replace two-term U.S. Senator Rob Portman, who chose not to seek re-election.
State Sen. Matt Dolan of Chagrin Falls is among the Republicans who would like the opportunity to square off against Congressman Ryan.
A lot of pundits say that State Sen. Dolan has the best shot at defeating Ryan in the November general election, but Republicans are likely to choose one of his more obnoxious opponents, who include investment banker Mike Gibbons, former state GOP chair Jane Timken, author J.D. Vance, and former Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel.
I could tell you who I think you should vote for in these races. After all, newspapers have issued endorsements in elections for almost as long as their have been newspapers.
I may be relatively new to the area, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that some of these candidates stand head and shoulders above the rest.
Of course, that doesn’t mean voters will necessarily choose the best – or most qualified – candidates. Sometimes it’s just a popularity contest. For that matter, I suppose every election is technically a popularity contest, right?
Sometimes voters get it right.
And sometimes, voters get it wrong.
The same is true for newspapers when they issue their endorsements.
I don’t know how many of them I’ve written during the course of my career, but there have been too many to count. If I had to guess, my endorsement “batting average” hovers somewhere around .700, which isn’t too shabby if you ask me.
Hack Gaither, the late publisher of my hometown weekly newspaper once said the absolute best endorsements are the ones that end up being correct.
“If you get them right, you can hold your head high knowing you have your finger on the pulse of the community you serve,” he said. “If you get them wrong, you might as well go stick your head in a hole for being so out of touch with your readers.”
He wasn’t wrong.
Over the years, a number of candidates have told me they felt my endorsements played a significant role in securing a victory on Election Day. Of course, I’ve also been accused of single-handedly tanking a candidate’s chances because I endorsed one of their opponents.
Neither was probably true, but I haven’t ever minded being the scapegoat.
A number of years ago in a hotly-contested judge’s race down in Mississippi, an exceptionally controversial judge was seeking re-election for a post he had held for 25 years or more.
He had such a terrible reputation in the community that when it was time to run for re-election, he had no less than 10 challengers, all local attorneys who were all equally qualified to hold the position.
In the endorsement I wrote and published the day before the election, I itemized a number of documented examples of the incumbent judge’s obnoxious and threatening behavior toward other judges, jurors, plaintiffs, defendants, and pretty much anyone he encountered.
It was clever, well-written, and a perfectly-scathing rebuke of a man who had allowed his position to go to his head.
In my closing argument, I wrote that voters could literally choose ANY of the other 10 candidates just as long as they didn’t vote for the incumbent.
When the endorsement appeared in print the next morning, the first call that came in to my office was from the judge’s wife who proceeded to tell me how big of a mistake I had made and how she would “pray to God” that I would “rebuke Satan’s grasp on whatever was left of my conscious.”
I chucked to myself as I ended the call a few minutes later. She was clearly as crazy as her lunatic husband.
And then another call came in, this time from the judge’s pastor – an old school, fire and brimstone, Pentecostal preacher who promised that I would “rue the day” I crossed a member of his flock.
The next call came from one of the church’s elders. Then one came from the chairman of the deacons. Next came one from the choir director and the calls kept coming. And coming. And coming.
I eventually stopped counting after 100 or so angry calls came one after another in rapid succession.
It was a literal “prayer chain” of angry callers who answered the judge’s wife’s call to arms.
In addition to rallying the prayer warriors, the judge and his heavenly host of supporters apparently also rallied voters to head to the polls the next day.
Voter turnout was the highest in a half century and, you guessed it, the judge won re-election by a landslide.
To this day, I feel like had I remained silent, low voter turnout probably would have spelled defeat for the judge.
Like I said, sometimes we get it right.
And sometimes we get it wrong.
During the 2008 presidential election when – as a young newspaper publisher living and working in Southwest Iowa – I passed on endorsing not one, but two different candidates who both would eventually become future presidents of the United States.
During the course of that particular campaign season, I had the good fortune to meet with both of those men privately, just as I did with each and every other candidate running for president that year.
Although both future Presidents were genuine, thoughtful, and eloquent with their vision for our country, it was the compelling message of one of their opponents that won me over.
In full disclosure, not only did I pass on endorsing a guy named Obama and guy named Biden, but I also passed on endorsing the late Sen. John McCain and a rising star in Ohio politics named John Kasich.
At least I was consistent.
While I’m still getting a feel for all things political in Northeast Ohio, I’m making a conscious decision to steer clear of any endorsements during this initial election cycle.
For those candidates who wouldn’t have received our endorsements, you’re welcome.
Don’t forget to vote.
David Gustafson is the not-so-mild-mannered editor of the Chagrin Valley Times, Solon Times, and Geauga Times Courier. In high school, he once ran an unsuccessful campaign for student council, but redeemed himself in college when he was elected vice-president of his student body.