The 34th Ohio House District is getting buried in direct mail. Veteran operatives familiar with state and local campaigns can’t recall anything like it — Democrat Frank Comunale releasing more than a dozen separate pieces in a primary campaign against Emilia Sykes, daughter of the incumbent, Vernon Sykes, who can’t run again because of term limits.
Comunale, a Summit County councilman making his second try in a legislative race, appears to be going all out. According to pre-primary campaign finance reports filed last week, Comunale has spent just over $100,000, compared to about $27,000 by the Sykes campaign. More than half of Comunale’s expenses, just over $54,000, were on direct mail.
Most of Comunale’s literature has been positive, if prone to the usual campaign hyperbole, several featuring President Obama and Hillary Clinton on the cover, as if they are out there campaigning for Comunale.
Well, not exactly, the literature explains. The Democrats all share common values, and Comunale did serve as a delegate for Clinton and campaigned “vigorously” for Obama.
There are direct mail pieces featuring Comunale with firefighters, seniors, a doctor, elementary school students and a factory worker. The guy seems to be everywhere and know everyone.
Two pieces attack Sykes because her mother and father have held a seat in the Ohio House from the Akron area since 1983, when Vernon was appointed to a vacancy. They say nothing about Comunale, just accuse the Sykeses of “nepotism” and “the old name game.”
The question is: Will all the money and the unprecedented direct mail onslaught work?
The answer is: Probably not.
In what looks to be a very low turnout election, the race in the 34th Ohio House District is generating more absentee ballot requests by far than any other district in Summit County. So far, Democrats in the 34th District have requested 1,594 absentee ballots.
The next highest total, for either party, is in the other contested primary, in the 35th Ohio House District, where incumbent Zack Milkovich is battling Democrat Greta Johnson. There, 620 Democrats have requested an absentee ballot.
It is hard to see how an increased turnout in the 34th District would break to Comunale’s advantage. The heart of the district is wards 3, 4 and 5, the political base of the Sykeses in the African-American community.
To counter that, Comunale would need a surge of tidal proportions in Democratic turnout in Ward 8. (The district also includes Ward 1, part of Ward 2, plus tiny parts of Bath and Cuyahoga Falls.)
Harder to analyze is the impression the candidates make when campaigning door to door or appearing before small groups of voters, at block club meetings and similar gatherings.
Comunale has eight years of experience on the County Council, a background in business and long involvement in community organizations. Yet in bringing that to bear on issues, Comunale can stumble badly, for example talking about the need for a tax credit for businesses that hire new employees.
In fact, Ohio has just such a program, the Ohio Job Creation Tax Credit Program. It became effective in January 1993.
Sykes, a young attorney now working in the Summit County Fiscal Office, is in her first race but knows how to stay on target.
On jobs, she offers a cogent critique of JobsOhio and an argument that tax credits have been a failure in Ohio, accurately pointing to the need to invest in education, from early childhood education through job training.
With a master’s degree in public health, she also understands health care, something Comunale says is mainly a federal responsibility, even though Medicaid is about one-third of the state budget.
For Comunale’s strategy to work, an attack of mass amnesia would have to hit in Wards 3, 4 and 5, making voters forget all the positives associated with Vernon and Barbara Sykes’ terms in the House.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.