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Longtime Democratic strategists launch Ohio super PAC to focus on GOP scandals for 2022 election – cleveland.com

A still from the launch video of Bring Ohio Back, a new super PAC formed by veteran Democratic strategists to attack Republicans in the 2022 election. (Bring Ohio Back/Screenshot pulled from YouTube)
CLEVELAND, Ohio — A group of veteran Ohio Democratic strategists with ties to former Gov. Dick Celeste have formed a new super PAC to attack Ohio Republicans on both state and national issues in the 2022 election.
The PAC called Bring Ohio Back is helmed by longtime operatives with experience in local, state and national politics. All have worked on campaigns for Celeste — the only two-term Democratic governor in Ohio in the last 60 years.
The members forming the group are:
*Jerry Austin, a strategist from Northeast Ohio who ran both Celeste’s campaigns and the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential bid.
*David Milenthal, a political advertising executive and principal of The Milenthal Group, who previously handled media for the Celeste campaign.
*Jim Ruvolo, former executive director and chair of the Ohio Democratic Party during Celeste’s successful campaigns in 1982 and 1986 and a former vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee.
*Jeff Rusnak, principal at R Strategy Group who has worked on races at all levels of government, including Supreme Court Justice Michael Donnelly, Sen. Sherrod Brown, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sander’s 2016 presidential campaign in Ohio and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet’s 2020 presidential bid. His first political job was on Celeste’s re-election campaign in 1986.
Austin said the four co-founders, who have worked on multiple projects since Celeste’s campaigns, hadn’t been as directly involved in Ohio Democratic politics for a while. They were baffled by the lack of messaging from Democrats on the numerous scandals involving Republicans over the past decade.
“We were sitting back on the sidelines and watching it,” Austin said. “After the 2020 elections, we had a conversation and said maybe we want to get back into this and see if we can make a dent. We’re not looking to be paid or anything like that. We’re all volunteers at this point. But we think the information is out there.”
He also expressed frustration with the current crop of consultants that dominate Democratic politics.
“The message was always there, but the message deliverers didn’t deliver the message,” he said. “We’ve seen the same group of consultants hired time after time and not winning.”
Rusnak and Austin said they looked for inspiration and found it in The Lincoln Project, a group created by former GOP consultants in 2019 to combat then-President Donald Trump and other Republicans who supported him. Steve Schmidt, co-founder and former adviser of The Lincoln Project, is headlining several events for the group next week.
The group wants to bring that intensive messaging to Ohio, focusing on scandals and malfeasance within state government.
“What the Lincoln Project did successfully was they provoked. They got people to pay attention,” Rusnak said. “We have to make sure people understand the full impact of what’s happened here.”
Bring Ohio Back’s target audience is “moderate Independents, frustrated Republicans and soft Democrats,” according to a launch email. The group said they would focus on “extremism” and “corruption” in Ohio during Republicans’ dominance in state government over the past three-plus decades.
“When they see exactly what’s occurred here – what’s taken place here – and you have a group of officials who operate as if they own the state, there are no consequences to those actions,” Rusnak said. “Those voters will react and respond to it.”
As part of their launch, they produced a rollout video narrated by actor Martin Sheen – a Dayton native – who pitches Ohio as a place that once sported inventors, athletes and heroes like Thomas Edison, Jesse Owens and Neil Armstrong.
“But times have changed, unfortunately, not for the better,” Sheen says in the video. “When Republicans gained one-party rule, scandal and corruption followed with the theft of billions of Ohioans hard-earned dollars.”
The video points to recent scandals such as the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow — a for-profit online charter school that bilked the state out of millions of dollars — and House Bill 6 — the ratepayer-funded bailout championed by Akron-based First Energy. The latter case, which is ongoing, saw the arrest of Republican Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder on a single count of racketeering. Householder was removed from the speakership, but Republicans waited 11 months before removing him entirely from office.
Both ECOT and House Bill 6 were issues that dogged Republicans in the 2018 and 2020 elections, respectively, though not enough to change the makeup of the state government significantly. Democrats have won just three statewide elections since 2010: President Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012 and Sen. Sherrod Brown’s re-election efforts in 2012 and 2018.
Initially, Bring Ohio Back will target social media and digital advertising, Austin said. They do not have plans to endorse any candidates.
As a super PAC, Bring Ohio Back is not required to disclose its donors, though Rusnak and Austin said they would do so voluntarily. Rusnak declined to say how much the group had raised so far.
Read more politics coverage:
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The culture war fought in local school board races expected to continue in Ohio 2022 elections
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