Dems to pick candidate in private

Democrats are determined to keep voters from deciding who will win the party’s nomination to run against Ohio Gov. John Kasich next year.

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, a Democrat, announced this week that he is forming an exploratory committee to consider a bid for governor in 2014. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, on the same day said he would within days decide whether to run for governor next year.

Other potential Kasich challengers include Betty Sutton and Richard Cordray, the former state treasurer and attorney general who now runs the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In 2006, Ohio Democrats weeded out most of the field for governor even before the primary. That way, then-U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland was able to amass a campaign war chest for the general election.

Meanwhile, three Republicans battled for their party’s nomination. Kenneth Blackwell won it, but in doing so limped into the general election with little cash.

Strickland won handily.

Republicans followed suit in 2010 by coalescing behind Kasich, who eventually beat Strickland. Without primary opposition Kasich entered the general election with a healthy, wealthy campaign.

Now it’s the Democrats’ turn again. Fitzgerald told the Tribune Chronicle Editorial Board last year that a 2014 primary would be financially ”suicidal.”

Money will certainly be important. Kasich has already raised $2.7 million and has $2.1 million on hand. He’s expected to raise $20 million.

But without a contested primary, there is no way to know which Democrat will resonate best with voters. Also, the nominee’s vulnerabilities would likely sit dormant until the general election, when it might be too late for successful damage control. And let’s not forget that this process cheats the voters, devolving politics to the days of smoke-filled-back-room deals.

It’ll take more than money anyway. The most recent Quinnipiac University poll shows the governor holds a 10-point advantage over FitzGerald and an eight-point lead over Ryan. The poll also suggests the governor would win re-election over former U.S. Rep. Sutton and Cordray 45 percent to 38 percent each.

If one of the Democrats chooses to stay out of the race, as Strickland decided last month, a good reason would be Kasich’s job approval rating, now above 50 percent. That’s likely to climb as the economic recovery continues, the state budget gets healthier, and the governor keeps sliding to middle ground (he supports expanded Medicaid and a severance tax on the oil and natural gas industry) and the rainy day fund may soon result in a tax rebate.

Another good reason to pass on a gubernatorial run would be an aversion to relinquishing a good job, like the plum position Ryan has in Congress.

But if the Democratic candidates believe they offer something better on the issues, they should not allow backdoor politics or secret quid pro quo agreements to shut them out of the primary.