INSIDERNJ EXCLUSIVE: Ohio Democratic State Party Chair Pepper Says Booker Tailor-Made for Buckeye State Campaign Success

The city of Youngstown is defined by stark math: a city built for 170,000 people now houses 65,000. When the city’s steel mills closed in the ’70s and ’80s, tens of thousands of jobs disappeared, along with the middle class families that relied on them. The pockmarks left by those missing 100,000 people, those missing jobs, remain everywhere. According to the old timers, even the smell of the place has changed. When the mills were going strong, the odor of burning sulfur permeated the Valley. Now, nothing. No doubt today’s air is healthier, but they’d trade it any day to get the smell of that old economy back.

from David Pepper’s The People’s House

 

The caricature of a Democratic candidate for president who can do well in Ohio probably looks a little like Joe Biden: someone who can carry a lunch bucket with a ham and swiss sandwich inside and a thermos of milk and get away with rolling up his sleeves and wearing a bright yellow foreman’s work helmet without looking nerdy.

Ohio Democratic State Committee Chairman David Pepper – who came to New Jersey today to promote his new book, The People’s House – says he has little doubt Biden would do well in the Buckeye State. But there are others in the field of Democrats who could too, including Pepper’s old Yale Law School friend Cory Booker, who happens to be a 2020 presidential candidate.

In fact, Pepper said he thinks Booker is a good candidate for swing state Ohio, where a Democrat needs 16-17 counties to offset the losses elsewhere, and strong performance in Cuyahoga County. One of the keys to victory lies in a message that reaches mid-size cities like Mansfield and Springfield.

“Cory understands that better than anyone because he was the mayor of Newark,” Pepper told InsiderNJ. “His experience is perfect for a mid-size city-targeted campaign.”

The steel plant towns need someone to present a plan for the next generation of jobs.

Cities like the hard luck Youngstown in Pepper’s novel.

While politicos who crave the key to Ohio’s political heart may have a pre-formed image of a presidential candidate, Pepper notes that a wide array of individuals have won there, including Barack Obama, Sherrod Brown and Donald Trump.

“We’re a state that makes things.” said the state Democratic chairman. “We don’t take a back seat even to Michigan. Voters in Ohio want a candidate who can connect with the everyday Ohioan, which is a person who works hard and wants to get ahead. They will back the person they think is really fighting for them. They thought it was Trump in 2016.”

But the sitting president and his party are overreaching now in Ohio, Pepper argued.

“The Republicans are making a big mistake by trumpeting how great everything is, and it’s a little like rubbing salt in the wound,” said the party chairman.

Trump knows he needs Ohio to win reelection in 2020, that’s why he went there last week, Pepper said.

“But he’s making a mistake the Democrats made [in 2016],” he added.

A former Cincinnati city councilman, Pepper learned a lot about the intricacies – and evils – of gerrymandering when he ran for state auditor in 2010. Coming out of that contest, he wanted to write about what he learned, but to an audience larger than just political insiders. He decided to write a novel, using the pulse-pounding format of a thriller to tackle the arguably less than scintillating nuances of gerrymandering.

“The goal was to use literature to highlight problems in the system,” Pepper told InsiderNJ, as he prepared to make a book club appearance in Montclair to promote The People’s House.

“I do think as you get all the crazy news on cable, people tend to tune it out at some point because they feel like they don’t know which way is up, and so writing political thrillers gives me a chance to come at it in a different way,” he said. “At book club conventions, we have thoughtful discussions, and we find out that while we usually aren’t all from the same party – many of those individuals in the clubs are Republicans, we are all for transparency.”

In The People’s House, Pepper examines the influence of Russia in an American presidential election. Naturally, Pepper wants to see Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s just-finished Russia report.

“It needs to be transparent,” the chairman said of the report. “He did a deep dive. The report should answer a lot of questions.”

As for impeachment, Pepper said he’s not ready to go there. “Let’s wait and see what comes out of it,” he told InsiderNJ. “The last thing we want to have is an impression that we got ahead of ourselves. I think it’s a mistake to talk about it.”

People – including long-suffering Ohioans in down on its heels Youngstown – want to hear what politicians will do about the economy.

 

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