Although the Cincinnati Tea Party has long said it’s a non-partisan group, its largest rallies and protests have featured a predominantly GOP slant. Speakers and attendees at the events have included former Congressman Steve Chabot — who’s seeking a return to Ohio’s 1st District seat — along with U.S. Senate candidate Rob Portman, U.S. Rep. John Boehner, U.S. Rep. Jean Schmidt and gubernatorial contender John Kasich.
But for all of the Tea Party’s deference to Republican officials, the effort hasn’t been reciprocated.
Mike Wilson, founder of the local Tea Party, harshly criticized state GOP leaders recently for behind-the-scenes jockeying that led to changes in the races for Ohio auditor and Ohio attorney general. Wilson wrote a mass e-mail Jan. 22 to followers urging them to tell State Party Chairman Kevin DeWine to stop wooing Dave Yost to enter the auditor’s race. Yost (pictured), who is Delaware County prosecutor, at the time was seeking the GOP’s nomination to run for attorney general.
Wilson said both Yost and the only declared GOP candidate for auditor at the time, Seth Morgan, are true conservatives that the Tea Party supports; the other candidate in the attorney general’s race — former U.S. Senator Mike DeWine — is a “RINO,” or “Republican in Name Only.”
Wilson alleged Kevin DeWine was participating in a political dirty trick in order to clear the path for his cousin, Mike DeWine, to win the party’s nomination in the attorney general’s race.
Two days after Wilson’s e-mails, Yost switched races and announced he would in fact seek the auditor’s job.
“I think both Morgan and Yost are good candidates and I think it is terrible that the (party) is attempting to manipulate the outcome in these races to pit good conservatives against each other to allow a RINO like Mike DeWine to run uncontested,” Wilson wrote.
“Ohio Republican Chairman Kevin DeWine does not understand things and needs to get the message,” Wilson continued.
Kevin DeWine didn’t return an e-mail seeking a comment on Wilson’s allegations.
Morgan, a state representative from Huber Heights, decided to run for Ohio auditor when incumbent Auditor Mary Taylor decided earlier this month not to seek reelection and instead run as John Kasich’s running mate in the gubernatorial race.
The Democratic nominee is Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper, a Cincinnati native who lives in Anderson Township.
Despite Wilson’s allegations, Kevin DeWine’s motivation appears to be more politically pragmatic than personally motivated. Morgan isn’t well known outside of the Dayton area, and party leaders are worried about his ability to raise money and campaign statewide.
Before Kevin DeWine approached Yost, Republican leaders also asked ex-attorney general and ex-auditor Betty Montgomery and ex-attorney general Jim Petro to run in the auditor’s race, as well as Mike DeWine himself, sources said. All declined the offer.
Pepper, son of retired Procter & Gamble CEO John Pepper, had handily out-raised Taylor in the auditor’s race, by nearly three-to-one. As of last summer, Pepper had raised almost $320,000 to Taylor’s $108,000, according to campaign finance reports.
Yost said the switch is in the GOP’s best interests. “Business, political and grassroots leaders across this great state have called on me during the last several days to put aside my personal plans and fill a gap in our party’s ticket — to step up and bring my skills and passion for public integrity to this most important work,” Yost said in a prepared statement. “After much prayer, reflection and taking of counsel, I have decided to run for auditor of state.”
Although the Ohio Auditor’s Office doesn’t capture many headlines, it’s important in at least one crucial aspect: The office gets a seat on the Ohio Apportionment Board, which will reconfigure the state’s legislative districts in 2011. Any changes could benefit one party over the other, depending on who controls the process.
For his part, Wilson — a Springfield Township resident — is challenging State Rep. Connie Pillich (D-Montgomery) for the Ohio 28th District seat. GOP leaders had also sounded out potential primary challengers for Wilson in the past.
WCPO Channel 9 reports on this story in its 6 p.m. Thursday newscast and at wcpo.com.