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Tom Troy

Spang, Stainbrook helped Byers candidacy

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When rumors circulated late last year and in January that Toledo Councilman Sandy Spang was thinking of running for Lucas County commissioner, the general reaction was that she could win and that the 12-year Democratic Party monopoly on the Lucas County commissioners’ office might finally be broken.

After all, Ms. Spang is a popular candidate in Toledo and a proven vote-getter, able to drill down to bureaucratic problems that seem to evade others.

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Plus, her opponent, former Maumee Judge Gary Byers, brings some baggage to the contest, stemming from an ongoing feud with the Maumee City Council over the cost of running the court.

So even though 2018 is likely to be more of a Democratic wave year than a Republican wave, and even though Democrats hold a edge in voter registration in Lucas County, Ms. Spang’s chances of beating Mr. Byers in a head-to-head race would have been about even.

That is, if she had agreed to run as a Republican. Or if she ran as an independent and no Republican filed.

However, it was not to be.

In a meeting in January, former Republican state representative and senator Mark Wagoner Jr. urged Ms. Spang to file as a Republican. He advised her he was attempting to take over the Republican Party from then-Chairman Jon Stainbrook and that he was confident of success (which turned out to be correct) in becoming the chairman in June, in time to strongly support her candidacy.

He also told her that as a Republican, she would have the party’s financial backing, the benefit of its volunteers, support from the state party, and her name on the party’s slate cards that would be mailed out to voters. And she would have the anti-Byers vote entirely to herself.

Mr. Wagoner assured Ms. Spang that if she chose to run as a Republican she would easily defeat the candidate that Mr. Stainbrook was supporting in the primary, Sandy Bashaw, a political novice.

Ms. Spang would certainly have won the Republican nomination for county commissioner on May 8 if she had chosen to run, as Mr. Wagoner urged her to do. Her views are basically conservative. She voted in Republican primaries from at least 1996 to 2010. She often votes with other Republicans on city council. She only opted to be an independent to run for council in 2013.

Ms. Spang refused Mr. Wagoner’s advice, contending that she wanted to offer consistency to the voters, who know her as an independent.

In so doing, Ms. Spang has reduced her chances of success. She contends she’s well known enough for voters to pick her out of a three-way contest.

The conventional political realities are that the race is going to be split three ways between two candidates named “Sandy” and the Democratic nominee, former Judge Byers. A Republican could win. In 2010, also an off-year election, Republican George Sarantou, a well-known city councilman, came within a whisker of defeating Sylvania Township lawyer Carol Contrada. The effect of having three people on the ballot introduces a novel element this year.

It’s probably not a coincidence that, in his former capacity as GOP chairman, Mr. Stainbrook found a candidate named “Sandy” to run against Sandy Spang, as he has put up candidates with similar-sounding names before in order to confuse voters.

The record of independents running successfully for county commissioner in Ohio is not good. Even worse is the record of independents winning against both a Democratic and a Republican nominee.

Mr. Stainbrook went out of his way to make sure that there would be a Republican nominee, personally collecting signatures for Ms. Bashaw’s candidate petition.

Surprise endings should never be ruled out in politics. Look at Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. The polls and conventional wisdom said it couldn’t happen.

Likewise, Ms. Spang could pull off a surprise victory if she runs a strong campaign. She has the endorsement of the Toledo Firefighters Local 92, which has a history of picking winners.

One of the things that Mr. Stainbrook was good at was filling up the ballot with names of Republican candidates to run against incumbent Democrats.

Those candidates hardly ever won, nor were they seriously expected to. They were there in case the Democratic candidate blew up unexpectedly and also to force the Democratic candidate to spend money, both good reasons in the absence of a good candidate.

One might have thought that, faced with likely defeat for Ms. Bashaw, the Republican chairman would rather have steered Ms. Bashaw to another race and root for the independent who in her heart is a Republican to get elected to the Lucas County board of commissioners.

If Mr. Byers wins the election in November, the first thing he should do is call both Ms. Spang and Mr. Stainbrook and thank them profusely.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com419-724-6058, or on Twitter @TomFTroy.

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