“Becoming the Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party is not something the day of the election in 2014 I would have even thought of. We were starting from scratch as a party after 2014,” Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper told the National Battlegrounds Class.
Mr. Pepper’s personal history is unique. “I grew up around the world,” he told the class. “We lived in Rome for a while, then Brussels.” Following that Mr. Pepper attended college and law school on the East Coast, and traveled to Russia. He said, “No matter where I went, I never stopped bragging about Cincinnati.”
Following the Cincinnati riots of 2001, Mr. Pepper sought an at-large seat on the Cincinnati City Council. In 2006, Mr. Pepper was elected as one of three county commissioners for Hamilton County. He also ran for State Auditor in 2010 and Attorney General in 2014.
Following statewide Democratic losses in 2014, Mr. Pepper was elected to Chair of the Ohio Democratic Party, where he embarked on an expansive listening tour of the state.
“I took three months and did town-hall meetings all over Ohio. I listened to feedback and turned frustration into enthusiasm,” Mr. Pepper told the class. From these town-halls, Mr.Pepper developed the Main Street initiative. This initiative seeks to elect Democrats at state and local levels of government, acknowledging that there is a disparity between presidential election and off-year election turnouts.
Regarding the 2016 Democratic U.S. Senate primary in Ohio netween PG Sittendeld and Ted Strickland, Mr. Pepper said, “This state is enormous. When you get elected to City Hall, build a great record of service. It takes a while, it takes years to get down. What I said to PG [Sittenfeld] was take some time and be patient. We have a process of endorsements.”
On the 2014 election when Ed FitzGerald lost to John Kasich in a landslide, Mr.Pepper said, “Short-term we need to do a better job of vetting our candidates. We need to build a farm team. Katie Clyde, Emelia Sykes, Nan Whalen, they are candidates to watch for the future.”
Though Mr. Pepper is a Super Delegate in the Democratic Primary, he has pledged to stay neutral until the convention.
“We want to be able to unite this party, we want both [the Clinton and Sanders] campaigns to feel they were treated fairly, so that’s why I haven’t pledged,” Mr. Pepper said. He also noted the enthusiasm for Senator Bernie Sanders among young people. “Win or lose this November, there will be a very active candidate for Congress someday who was once a Bernie Sanders grassroots supporter.”
On the Republican side, Mr. Pepper empathized with supporters of Donald Trump: “The political system is so broken that people want someone that’s not a politician.”