Given a chance to fix a mistake they made in recruiting a candidate to replace Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner — now running for U.S. Senate — the Ohio Democratic Party doubled down on the mess they created. After six months of turning a deaf ear to concerns among their base about the anti-choice, anti-gay marriage positions of their candidate, Marietta-based State Representative Jennifer Garrison, and telling activists “If you don’t like her, go find someone else,” the party responded to those who did just that by pushing Garrison overboard unceremoniously, bullying the grassroots-backed candidate out of the race and pulling another candidate out of thin air, whom they’re presenting as their “official” choice, “strongly supported” by Governor Ted Strickland — before rank-and-file Democrats across the state know anything about her.

That Garrison’s feelings were ruffled is suggested by the fact that she not only withdrew from the SoS race, but also said she won’t seek reelection to the House, virtually guaranteeing her seat in her conservative district will go Republican. Given the extensive blowback about her candidacy from the Democratic faithful, the party could have had a gracious conversation with her months ago about her inappropriateness as a statewide candidate. Instead, they waited until desperate Democrats had responded to Dayton attorney (and 2008 congressional candidate) Sharen Neuhardt’s willingness to be a candidate. Insiders say the party told her they would take her candidacy seriously only when she got pledges for $100,000 — which she did. She spent the past two weeks reaching out to Democratic groups and leaders.

But as her candidacy gained momentum, the party’s belated awareness that Democrats would not accept Garrison was accompanied by a seeming need to call the shots — and to not appear to be reacting to its base. The Saturday afternoon announcement of Garrison’s withdrawal was followed Monday morning by the announcement that party chieftains had anointed Franklin County clerk of courts Maryellen O’Shaughnessy (pictured) to replace her.

Late Monday, Neuhardt withdrew her candidacy, following calls, perceived to be threatening, from party officials to people who had pledged their support to her. She said that although she was prepared for attacks on herself, she did not want to create a divisive situation for the party.

In reality, the Ohio Democratic Party created the divisive situation itself. O’Shaughnessy may indeed be the “best candidate” candidate they’re saying she is. But she’s off to a rocky start, with enthusiasm among hardcore Democrats dampened twice over — once by the party’s failure to take their early concerns about Garrison seriously, second by the heavy-handed insistence that the party must dictate who replaces her. It’s not a good place to be in an election that will likely be determined by which party is more successful in energizing and turning out their base. — Anastasia Pantsios

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