Ohio House 38th: Rice (D) Campaigning Hard Against White (R)
This is a TV ad for impressive 38th Ohio House District candidate Carolyn Rice (D-Kettering):
[NOTE: I have removed the embedded link, but the video is available here.]
On Sunday evening I spoke to Rice for about an hour on the phone. She and husband Michael had been out canvassing all day, but she still exuded energy and determination during our call. She has surpassed 14,000 doors in her grassroots campaign. What Rice hears from voters the most is that people "want whoever is in office out of office." Otherwise, the big issues are education, jobs and health care, although "once in a blue moon" she'll hear about the so-called "social values" issues of abortion and gay marriage. Voters' concerns about education are mainly whether their kids can go to college, how the state pays for schools, and the quality of education that their children receive.
The 38th is a very diverse district in the south suburbs of Dayton, ranging from affluent Centerville to struggling areas close to downtown. The residents represent a whole spectrum from wealthy to very poor. There are four different school districts, with the urban schools hurting the most.
A newcomer to politics, Rice relates that her life changed dramatically when she lost her position as a marketing director for Reynolds and Reynolds, a company in the automotive business that is one of Dayton's largest employers. She spent two years in a temporary position with Lexis-Nexis and engaged in a multitude of job interviews before finding her current position as Director of Executive and Cohort MBA Programs at the Raj Soin College of Business at Wright State University. During those two years she decided to get more involved in the community and to do things she is more passionate about. She worked on the Kerry campaign in 2004 and afterward joined with others from the campaign to form a successful local group called Democrats for a Stronger America. Personally, she went from feeling that politics is something you shouldn't talk about to speaking out about issues. When some of her friends didn't react well to this change, it just made her more determined to be vocal. She said that "silence is consent, so you've got to speak out if you want change."
When Montgomery County Democratic Chair Dennis Lieberman approached her about running against White, she initially had a "who, me?" reaction, but eventually realized that she wanted not only to run but to "give it 150%." She also said that "the more I get into this, the more I realize that I'd be terrific, and way better than what we've got today."
Rice said that she is trying to run a campaign like a legislator, meaning that she wants to be out among the people as much as possible and to get ideas from the district. What surprises her is that opponent Rep. John White (R-Kettering), a three-term incumbent and the Montgomery County Republican Party Chair, has not done the same. In fact, he has been virtually invisible. He has not attended school board, city council, or township meetings, or even local festivals during the summer and fall. He didn't attend candidate forums or the League of Women Voters candidate taping for local cable. Rice has seen very few yard signs for him and there have been no ads. The only time Rice has actually seen White in person was at the Dayton Daily News endorsement interview.
At a recent school board meeting Rice introduced herself to a parent who said after the meeting, "I just can't get over that someone who's running for the legislature actually cares about education." She has also heard from area residents that they have never met anyone who is running for the General Assembly. Rice notes that White didn't run any noticeable campaign two years ago but still won with about 60% of the vote. However, Rice feels that her hard work has put her into contention. "I don't know if I'll pull it off," she said, "but if I don't it's going to be close."
Ironically, part of Rice's inspiration to be very involved in the community is from White's predecessor in office, Rep. Bob Corbin (R), who held the seat for 24 years and was a frequent attendee at city council and township meetings. If elected she intends to hold monthly meetings on Saturdays at rotating locations throughout the district, attend school board and city council meetings, and spend a few hours each month walking through neighborhoods. However, Rice wants to emulate Corbin's community involvement not only as a legislator but in her campaign. Her idea is to "not just talk about how I'd be different, but actually campaign differently."
In the endorsement interview, Rice said that she did very well and White did poorly. When the editors asked White about his legislative accomplishments, he said that for the first four years he really didn't do anything. He talked about wanting to obtain public funding for faith-based organizations but couldn't name them, and praised gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell (R-Cincinnati) as "his guy" and a "friend." (Blackwell's extreme rightwing ideas turn off many moderate Republicans, including White's predecessor Bob Corbin.) At the end of the interview White complimented Rice, saying that she is "great." To her surprise, the newspaper endorsed White, writing that he has "shown signs of moderation" and is "a constructive, engaging, enthusiastic participant in state and community affairs." These comments are completely wrong, she said, because White was and is extremely conservative and he has noticeably failed to maintain an active presence in the district.
Rice reported that gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon) and U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Sherrod Brown (R-Avon) are doing well in the district and have been tremendously helpful to her campaign. They have each appeared before Rice's group, and Brown also met with small groups of voters to address their concerns after the acrimonious departure of the popular Iraq veteran Paul Hackett (D-Indian Hill) from the primary. Rice said that she wants to be like that, meeting face-to-face with people who are unhappy and dealing directly with their concerns. She says that she has been a consensus-builder in the business world and intends to approach public service the same way.
Personally, I was extremely impressed with Rice's spirit and determination. She speaks passionately and with evident conviction. As she said at the end of the call, "anyone who knows me knows that I am a person of my word, and that's something that people don't see in politics anymore." Amen to that!