Springer's name recognition is close to 100 percent, but it isn't fame that would get him elected. Springer's negatives, according to Ohio GOP chairman Bennett, go as high as 75 percent. As Springer himself says, "There are pluses and minuses. The plus is that I'm known by everybody. The minus is that I'm known by everybody." Springer's asset is money. In its current diminished state, the Ohio Democratic party is a weak host highly susceptible to invasion by the Springer virus. Springer has lavished more than $250,000 in contributions to Ohio Democrats, and he's traveled around the state to help candidates raise money. By all accounts he's a very compelling speaker. The Ohio Democratic party expressed its gratitude this spring by naming Springer Man of the Year at its annual dinner. If Springer gets the nomination, his campaign can be largely self-funded.
Jeffrey Rusnak, an Ohio-based political consultant working with MoveOn PAC and a new "527" organization called Bring Ohio Back, rejects the idea that the Democratic party needs Springer. "Regardless of who the Democrats have in '06, we're going to be starting from a lot stronger position," he told me. "We're on a better footing and better ground." But the enormous energy that the Democratic party and its various money-raising allies are pouring into the presidential contest will be difficult to sustain if, after an unprecedented effort, they still aren't able to prevail in 2004. And as Ohio State political scientist Herb Asher points out, if Kerry loses, there will be no Democrat powerful enough to dissuade Springer from running, or to dissuade party leaders from supporting him. When you consider all this, winning Ohio for Kerry isn't merely something Ohio Democrats should desire. It's something that may save them from becoming the nation's laughingstock.