Geauga county lawyer/nurse/former appeals court judge Bill O’Neill announced rceently that he’s coming back to take another shot at Congressman Steve LaTourette (R-14). About two dozen supporters gathered at the terminus of the RTA Blue Line Rapid at Van Aken and Warrensville roads in Shaker Heights to shiver and cheer through a speech which O’Neill repeated several times for the benefit of the video crew he brought along.

It’s part of the new-style campaign O’Neill says he will mount this time. In 2008, he followed the discouraging rule of contemporary campaigning: spend most of your time fundraising. Incumbent LaTourette, with his corporate buddies (one of his big donors was Robert Murray, owner of the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah that collapsed and killed six miners in 2007) and lobbyist pals (he dumped his first wife while canoodling with a lobbyist who became his second wife), easily outraised him 3-1. LaTourette routed O’Neill by 20 points.

This time, O’Neill says, he’s going to focus on grassroots organizing and Internet campaigning — or both. A pair of 18-year-old high-school seniors from Perry showed up at the event, having heard about it from Facebook, and were promptly asked by O’Neill to captain his organizing efforts in their community. He’s planning to recruit a volunteer captain in each of the 50 communities in the district, which covers Geauga, Lake and Ashtabula counties, plus snippets of Portage, Summit, Trumbull and Cuyahoga.

The Shaker Heights rapid station isn’t in O’Neill’s district; he was there to make a point. He hit on three themes in his announcement speech: the expansion of commuter rail to communities like Solon and Painesville; tightening banking regulations so that money would start flowing again to communities; and universal access to affordable health care.

While some might see O’Neill’s race as futile, his entrance in the race gives Democrats a serious contender just in the nick of time. With primary petitions due February 18, the only other Democratic to step up is perennial candidate Dale Virgil Blanchard, who faced LaTourette in 2002 (the year he was first elected) with dismal results. He was beaten in the Democratic primaries in 2004, 2006 and 2008. — Anastasia Pantsios

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