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The remarkable implosion of Ed FitzGerald

This is not Ed FitzGerald. It is a building in Albany, N.Y. Well, it <em>was</em> a building in New York. It's also a metaphor. (AP Photo/Times Union, Will Waldron)

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports that Democratic Ohio governor candidate Ed FitzGerald's campaign, faced with a series of unhelpful revelations, is basically packing it in:

Ed FitzGerald's campaign for governor confirmed Friday what was speculated for days: That the beleaguered Democrat is altering his strategy in an attempt to ensure his troubles don't doom his party's entire statewide ticket.
But FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, also plans to mount a "competitive, vocal" challenge to Republican Gov. John Kasich, his press secretary said.
"We will be making a significant investment in [the Ohio Democratic Party's] field and voter turnout program," Lauren Hitt wrote in an email. "With early vote approaching, this strategic shift in resources will allow us to focus on turning out the sporadic Democratic voters who have made the difference in so many past elections."
The shift Hitt notes is expected to benefit down-ballot Democratic candidates in races for attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer.

Translation: We're trying to make sure our disaster of a campaign doesn't drag down Democrats downballot who actually have a chance to win.

It's a stunning turn of events in what we supposed to be a major swing-state gubernatorial election this year. Just two years ago, Gov. John Kasich was an unpopular Republican governor who been rebuked by voters when overturned his move to restrict collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions.

But Kasich has regained his good political name even as the once-touted candidacy of FitzGerald has imploded in ways not even the most optimistic Republicans could imagine.

First was the poor fundraising, then a report that he was found by police in a car at 4:30 a.m. with a woman who was not his wife -- and that he didn't have a driver's license for a decade -- and finally nearly all of his top campaign staff deserting him. FitzGerald's collapse is all the more remarkable -- and worrisome for Democrats -- for a few reasons.

1) He was groomed

Ohio might be a swing state,  but Democrats here have a notoriously shallow bench. FitzGerald was supposed to be different, though. Young, politically astute and coming from the right part of the state, he assumed the newly created position of Cuyahoga County executive in 2010 with a mandate to clean up corruption in the Cleveland area (and to run for governor in 2014).

He earned strong reviews for his work, setting him up as the next big Democratic statewide candidate. And with Kasich looking vulnerable early on, the matchup was basically set.

Now, it's all gone to pot. And with their young rising star now sufficiently sullied, Democrats will have to go back to the drawing board when it comes to the 2016 Senate race and the likely open-seat governor's race in 2018.

2) Downballot Democrats are panicked

FitzGerald's campaign is shifting toward helping downballot Democrats for one reason: Those downballot Democrats have got to be terrified of what his colossal failure as a candidate means for them.

Secretary of State candidate and state Sen. Nina Turner (D) put it this way: "The great Winston Churchill comes to mind: ‘When you’re going through hell, you keep on going.’ That’s pretty much what we are doing." Ouch.

Democrats are running against GOP incumbents for all five statewide constitutional offices this year. They also hold less than one-third of the state Senate, less than 40 percent of the state House, and just 25 percent of the state's congressional seats. (Again, this is a swing state.)

In other words, Democrats have lots of ground to make up. What they don't have is a gubernatorial candidate who is going to motivate their faithful to turn out to vote from the top of the ticket. That's a huge loss.

3) The presidential reverberations

Democrats' inability to run a competitive candidate for governor in one of the swingiest states in the country doesn't speak well to their ability to deliver the crucial swing state to the Democratic presidential nominee (Hillary Clinton, anyone?) in 2016.

Not only is it bad to have a governor of the opposite party in charge; the current debacle suggests Democrats' campaign operation won't exactly be in tip-top shape come 2016.

And we don't have to remind you how important Ohio is. Over the past 110 years, the winner of Ohio has won the presidential race 26 times out of 28 -- and 13 in a row. That's not a coincidence. Ohio is a bellwether with lots of electoral votes (18 -- the seventh-most among the 50 states). It's pretty darn hard to win without it.

Which is a big reason Republicans are holding their convention in Cleveland in 2016.

4) John Kasich for president

Kasich's name remains in the periphery of 2016 presidential speculation. But he was once a House member who ran a brief campaign for president in 2000. So clearly the interest is there -- at least somewhat.

As we mentioned above, Kasich's career took a turn for the worse for a while there, with his approval ranking sinking as low as 30 percent. In politics, though, everyone loves a reclamation project, and Kasich is nothing if not that. Expect to see his name surfacing more and more in the context of the 2016 presidential race -- and probably moreso for the veepstakes.