WASHINGTON, D.C. — A long-dormant political action committee called “Bring Ohio Back” is making a comeback itself ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
The strategists behind the effort say the Ohio Democratic Party isn’t doing enough to persuade voters to reject Republicans.
In a pilot video released earlier this month, the group aimed to set the tone.
“For years, unchecked Ohio Republicans have been running Ohio like an organized crime family,” a voice says as photos of Republican officeholders and accompanying headlines flash on screen. “With no accountability and no shame, they think they own the state.”
Jeff Rusnak, who along with three other veteran Democratic strategists is reviving the PAC, is hoping videos like this will get people’s attention.
“What was missing in this state was a messaging machine,” Rusnak told Spectrum News in a recent interview over Zoom.
The new Bring Ohio Back is launching following years of Republican gains in Ohio, where the GOP controls the majority of congressional seats, the governor’s mansion, and a supermajority in the state legislature.
Rusnak said the PAC, which operates independent of any campaigns or state parties, will do what the Ohio Democratic Party has not — attack Republicans for recent scandals, like the $60 million bribery scheme over the bailout of two nuclear power plants.
“More of their emphasis and more of their focus has been on turnout and mobilization, instead of persuasion and moving people to vote the correct way,” Rusnak said.
A spokesperson for the Ohio Democratic Party, Matt Keyes, said in a statement to Spectrum News that ODP “is laser-focused on holding Republicans accountable” and welcomes “anyone who’s willing to put in that hard work to join us in our efforts.”
Bring Ohio Back is drawing inspiration from The Lincoln Project, a PAC formed by disaffected Republican strategists in 2019 to attack then-President Donald Trump. It produced dozens of ads that went viral ahead of the 2020 election and has raised tens of millions of dollars.
Lincoln Project co-founder Steve Schmidt is voluntarily advising Bring Ohio Back. While visiting Ohio earlier this month to help launch the group, he called Ohio’s 2022 U.S. Senate race the most important in the country.
“What a group like this can do is help tell a story and help shape the narrative around what the race will be,” Schmidt told Spectrum News in an interview on Nov. 18.
But The Lincoln Project has faced its own troubles.
Co-founder John Weaver, a former adviser to former Ohio Governor and presidential candidate John Kasich (R), was accused of sexual harassment and resigned, according to a New York Times report.
A law firm hired by The Lincoln Project found no evidence that the group’s leaders knew of Weaver’s behavior, but Schmidt resigned from the board in response to the scandal and questions about the group’s finances.
Schmidt, who still works with The Lincoln Project, insisted that those problems are different from the corruption Bring Ohio Back wants to highlight.
“John Weaver’s behavior, which I found appalling, and I said so at the time, neither implicates me, neither implicates The Lincoln Project,” Schmidt told Spectrum News.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ohio Republican Party criticized The Lincoln Project for the Weaver scandal and its decision to send white supremacist impersonators to an event for Virginia’s Republican candidate for governor.
Tricia McLaughlin, the spokesperson, said, “Which tactic of the Lincoln Project does ‘Bring Back Ohio’ want to emulate?”
Rusnak said the PAC is targeting three pools of voters: Frustrated Republicans, moderate independents, and ‘soft Democrats’ who either sat out the last two presidential elections, or voted for Trump.
He said the group, which can raise unlimited sums of money, is pledging to be transparent about its donors and spending and will file its first financial documents this year.