State House campaigns rarely command much interest. Part of that is the lack of attention they receive from the press, part of it is the lack of competition and the total lock the Republican party has had on Ohio for 50+ years. But it is still possible to make it exciting, draw the attention of voters and non-voters alike. That is what the candidacy of Sam Grady is, and always has been about.
Our story begins not with Sam but his brother, Tim, who launched his own misguided political career all the way back in 2014 when he realized the only requirement to run for governor in Ohio was to be 18 on election day. He began the arduous process of ballot access, finding a running mate, filling out paperwork, collecting signatures; but quickly (not quickly enough) realized it was too tall an order for a junior in high school. But he continued pursuing his idea of running for office, never quite deciding if it was an earnest attempt to reform our democracy or just an avenue to parody and mock our failing politics and so did neither well.
Tim ran as a write-in for state-representative in 2016 garnering a whopping 20 votes. In 2018 he was once again planning his gubernatorial run, this time as a write-in to avoid the hassle of ballot access. He’d also been trying for several months now to recruit a number of people to run for various state-representative seats as Libertarian candidates. The Libertarians had just secured ballot access again and so offered a rare opportunity for those interested to run with the only requirement being five signatures. Not surprisingly, interest remained low. Once again, Tim set aside his gubernatorial aspirations and went to work running as the Libertarian candidate for state representative of the Ohio 2nd. Tim remains thankful no one remembers it.
After the 2018 election, Tim swore to take a break from politics and campaigning to focus on completing his education and pursuing other, more productive, less soul-sucking interests. But, by summer 2019, Tim was once again determined that the election for state representative should not go uncontested and began recruiting candidates to run as independents and Libertarians. Once again, to no avail.
It was in winter 2019, that Tim first made the suggestion that Sam run in the Democratic primary as an extension of his dirt-bag left twitter persona as a bit, confident that the Richland Democratic party would once again manage to recruit a sacrificial lamb that Sam could not possibly win against. To which Sam responded via text:
Could be fun.
It was not until months later in July that the topic was seriously discussed again. Sam began to consider the idea at the increased prodding of his brother who had determined there was no one willing to run independent or Libertarian for the seat and so had begun seeking a Democrat sacrificial lamb of his own. A facebook page was created. As Sam had previously voted in Republican primaries it was quickly verified in an email with the county board of elections that this would not be an obstacle in his running as a Democrat.
Another email was written and sent to the Richland County Democratic Party to inform them of Sam’s intentions and his hope to narrow the gap in November by activating independents and younger voters in what is historically a Republican dominated district (the Republican incumbent consistently won nearly 70% of the vote). This elicited no response.
The following months consisted of only light work on the campaign. Attempting to connect with local activist groups, building a social media presence, considering if it was indeed worth the effort to gather signatures and pay the filing fee just to be defeated in the primary. Both Sam and Tim were focused on other projects. But when the filing deadline passed and it became clear the Democrats had no intention of challenging Republicans in the county, Sam registered as a write-in for the Democratic primary. And so began a continuing series of really hilarious events.
Perhaps prematurely, not realizing it would turn out to be a contested primary, the Ohio House Dems twitter account tweeted about Sam in a long thread of Democrat state house candidates.
Unbeknownst to the good folks at the Ohio Democratic Party, Sam was a well known and controversial (i.e. a provocateur (i.e. a troll)) figure with left and liberal twitter (writer’s note: I don’t understand twitter myself but these seem to be distinct and in constant war). The knowledge that Sam was taking his activities out of the twittersphere and into the real world was enough to provoke a startling response among the many who vaguely knew of Sam Grady. Whatever poor soul was managing the Ohio Dem’s social media must have been having an alarming night to see a tweet receive so many reactions in so little time. It was not long before the tweet was deleted and there was no further mention of Sam Grady from any party affiliated accounts for a long while.
The first opportunity for Sam’s campaign to make a splash (aside from the Ohio Dems mistaken endorsement) came when one of several conspiratorial state anti-vax lobbying groups contacted him. OAMF attempts to contact candidates every election cycle in hopes of getting candidates to spout anti-vaxxer propaganda passed off as “medical freedom”. Sam responded simply, respectfully, and forcefully with the knowledge that they’d reprint and advertise absolutely anything he said, really anything at all. They did not disappoint.
They posted the above graphic to their facebook page and within hours Sam’s own page was flooded with extremely angry anti-vaxxers who insisted their ridiculous and wrong conspiracy theories must be listened to because they were voters in Ohio. Along with angering the poor souls who’s entire operation consists of lobbying the Ohio government but organize themselves as a 501c(4) non-profit that is not required to report any of its financial backers, the incident also demonstrated Sam’s unique approach to politics.
For a long, long time the worst elements of our society have been permitted to grow and gain power and influence in government because they learned to play the game. They understood politicians are terrified of angering or alienating even small but organized groups of voters. And they understood that the expectation of “decorum” or political correctness from politicians in recent decades gave significant leeway to advance monstrous or idiotic ideas without ever being directly called out as monstrous or idiotic.
Often politicians, in order not to offend, will respond in such a way as to recognize as legitimate even the most fringe and absurd of ideas. Sam has always and will always demonstrate no remorse for calling these people out. This fact earned Sam his first (and seemingly last) bit of good press. Plunderbund referred to his as “arguably, the best and most direct response“. You can read Sam’s full statement here.
It was shortly after Sam registered as a write-in that the campaign learned that he would not be running unopposed. For Tim, this was joyous news as the result of a Democratic primary between two unknown write-in candidates in a safely Republican state house district in Ohio could not possibly be known in advance. This was a departure from the norm of every election being easily predicted and campaigns being nothing more than elaborate theater. This was exciting!
But for Sam it was deeply troubling. Losing such a race after having news of his candidacy spread across twitter would be horribly embarrassing and place him in constant danger of being easily owned (writer’s note: am I using these terms correctly?) online (as if it did not happen enough already). At Sam’s insistence, Tim went to work developing a basic strategy for winning the primary. It consisted primarily of making basic information available online and emphasizing to likely Democratic voters that Sam could deliver voters in November that might otherwise stay home for what appeared likely to be a moderate, establishment presidential candidate (it was Joe Biden, Joe Biden eventually won, but that wasn’t certain back in January).
In early March, Governor DeWine as well as government and administrators around the country began scrambling to respond to the quickly spreading COVID-19 pandemic. Universities were announcing closures, social distancing was being encouraged, and the president was reassuring the country “Just stay calm. It will go away,”. The primary was scheduled for March 17th, but in the hours leading up to it DeWine and the state government were involved in a legal battle over postponing it.
It can never be known for sure what the results would have been had the primary proceeded as planned, but it is not out of the question that a higher proportion of mail-in ballots allowed voters the opportunity to look-up the potential candidates. Any internet search would find plenty on Sam, including his website (which few, if any visited) and his ballotpedia page. Little, if nothing could be found on his primary opponent. Ultimately, Sam won with 62% of the vote. 125 write-ins to 76. Truly, an overwhelming victory and a mandate to run the campaign he’d always envisioned.
Post-Primary: Police, “Antifa”, and the Great Derangement
It can be honestly and accurately said that in the months that followed Sam Grady winning the Democratic nomination, Richland county, Ohio, and perhaps the country, progressively lost its collective mind.
Near the end of May, widespread protests across the country and around the world demanded police reforms and an end to the sort of brutality that led directly to the death of George Floyd. These protests were ubiquitous, from small towns to big cities. It absolutely terrified police and Republicans who grew concerned it reflected poorly upon the president and so hurt their reelection chances.
In many areas, including Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio, the police responded to protests demanding police accountability with unrelenting violence and brutality meant both to demoralize and incite further violence to justify their actions. Police teargassed, pepper-sprayed, beat, tackled, ran over, grabbed off the street into unmarked minivans, and shot (with less-lethal weapons) protesters and journalists.
It cannot be overstated that this was purely in response to protests that demanded reforms and accountability for the police, protests that directly threatened their power. Only a few weeks before, protests against the restrictions imposed in response to coronavirus were received cordially by police.
Millions of Americans participated in these protests making them the largest in US history. They were absolutely viewed as a threat against an unchecked, militarized police force and, perhaps oddly, a threat against Trump’s reelection. And so both police and Trump began peddling a fabricated narrative that a strange and previously barely known group called “Antifa” was orchestrating elaborate plots to sow violence and destruction. Before the protests, Antifa was barely mentioned, talked about periodically by alt-right social media and as counter protesters at neo-nazi demonstrations. But now they needed an “other”, an enemy to blame, a scapegoat.
It worked in that conservatives and statists (bootlickers, those who kowtow to government authorities) at last had an enemy to blame, to justify in their own minds their opposition to reforming a failed policing institution. People readily believed it because it was complicated and more appealing than the simple and obvious truth. They believed it so forcefully that they started making up hysterical fantasies to panic over. Truly, the great derangement had overcome the country.
Once people had come to believe a mysterious cabal of highly organized and motivated anarchists was behind every act of vandalism and every protest in America, it was only logical that the cabal would come for them next. This manifested in the popular rumor, a throwback to the panicked rumors of the civil-rights era, that busloads of evil-doers were traveling throughout the country to terrorize small town America. Republicans and police propagated these patently false and ridiculous rumors. One fake story about a colorfully painted “antifa” bus full of weapons was originated with the Columbus police. It was not long until these rumors came home to Mansfield.
On May 30th, a Black Lives Matter rally was planned for the park in downtown Mansfield. This is not unusual, protests happen there all the time, including in the past for Black Lives Matter (it’s a long-running issue, if you weren’t aware). Everything was, of course, worked out with the city ahead of time. It cannot be stressed enough how perfectly normal this was. But the day before the protest, ridiculous rumors were circulated on social media.
A copypasta saying that thousands of protesters would be brought in to the city and that the city of Mansfield was warning businesses of it (I’m sure that part isn’t true either). This was 100% believed by many, many people. They absolutely believed that well over a thousand people would be bused into Mansfield.
The Mansfield Police Department did not bother to debunk these rumors. The statement they did release, most likely before the rumors were even circulating on facebook, weirdly did suggest violence and property damage were an omnipresent possibility of protests but perhaps in light of the violence in some major cities the previous week can be forgiven. Their statement did say the protest was to be peaceful.
The rally of course went off without any problems (a pair of armed individuals were hanging out at a nearby school but that seems normal enough). And there absolutely weren’t any busloads of protesters brought in from Cleveland and Columbus.
The day after the protest, Tim had what turned out to be a really bad idea for the mental well being of the district but a really, really, good idea for the campaign. That afternoon he sent Sam a message inquiring on if he had “the photo of antifa supersoldier Sam Grady” to which Sam responded in the affirmative and sent the original link.
Tim wrote back:
It amazes me how quickly Republicans have fabricated (<12 hours) a whole “this is antifa’s fault” narrative
So, should probably spread this around
It was briefly discussed what the funniest way to post the image would be, how likely it would be for people to find it on their own (not very), if Facebook users also understood what twitter was, if people were deluded enough to believe the photo was of Sam. The hashtag #IAmAntifa had been trending on twitter so that night a screenshot of the tweet (providing important context like the date, the original poster, and enough for a thinking person to determine this was in fact not Sam Grady) was posted to the Sam Grady for State Representative facebook page along with the hashtag.
Responses were limited to a few angry people who struggled to write coherent sentences. About what you’d expect before it drifted into insignificance. But two days after it was posted, a former deputy director of the Richland board of elections and vice-chair of the county Republican Party (the chair of which is Sam’s opponent but more on that later) shared the post. It is not at all clear whether he understood the picture was not of Sam. At that point, they realized they’d overestimated the ability of even people who should have known better to discern fact from friction. From there the post exploded.
What follows is undoubtedly a one-sided account because the local party has, from the beginning, avoided contact with this campaign. But on June 3rd, Sam was asked to comment on the soon to be released denouncement of him by the RCDP. This was the first word Sam had heard of it. In retrospect and in light of the relationship between members of the Republican and Democratic parties of Richland county, it perhaps makes sense why all the county-wide offices in the district were unopposed this election. And it makes sense that once a member of the county Republican party leadership became alarmed and offended the Democrats would rush into action.
The RCDP cited as their reasoning “several comments and beliefs made by Mr. Sam Grady,” which, while there are many things to denounce Sam Grady for, the timing of the release as well as follow-up statements by Weirich points to the blatantly facetious Antifa post. Even the RCDP was duped. In retrospect, not a surprise. They also cited Sam having “denied” going before their “screening and vetting committee”. It cannot be stressed enough that this comment exchange in late 2019 was the only mention ever about this committee:
They were grasping at straws and it was hilarious. For Tim anyway, as one of his long-stated goals was the “reformation” (put politely) of the Democratic party in the county and the state and they were enthusiastically fueling their own collapse. For Sam it was an annoyance. Yet another example of the party’s desperation to lose elections, favoring instead playing hack establishment games.
From the standpoint of the campaign it was a rousing success. Both the Mansfield News Journal and Richland Source covered the story marking the most news coverage a state representative campaign and a Democratic candidate for the office has received in years. The Ohio Republican party called Sam an “antifa terrorist” and tried hard to make a big deal out of it.
But for the people of Richland County, the fear had only begun.
That weekend another Black Lives Matter protest was scheduled, this time in Ontario, and in the intervening week the county had apparently become unhinged. Once again, wild rumors circulated about the mysterious antifa boogeyman who hid around every corner and lurked in every shadow. On Thursday afternoon, a warning that “antifa” was preparing for a “violent weekend” in Richland county was posted to the Village of Lucas facebook page.
In addition, a shitposter created a facebook page called Mansfield Riot and made posts about planned riots at the local Kroger. Understandably, this created some fear among the people of the county. Enough that some reached out to Sam to ask why his evil antifa was coming to terrorize them. At this point Tim was growing increasingly concerned that the people of Richland county would burn their towns down looking for imaginary antifa super soldiers. Made more urgent when rather than allaying the fears of the people and pointing out that the rumors were unfounded, the Mansfield Police Department gave credence to the threats of violence.
Let it be clear for the future: the appropriate response of authorities to rumors and panic is NEVER to incite more panic by suggesting, without any evidence, that threats of violence are real. What’s worse, there really was a peaceful protest planned for the evening of June 5th. With no further clarification, that is endangering the safety of that protest. Later that day it was announced that the local transit system would be shut down early on June 5th, citing “extenuating circumstances“. To this day there does not appear to have been any coverage or investigation to how government officials within the county were so thoroughly duped beyond that of announcements that the MPD had arrested the shitposter.
Meant to mock the fear-mongering of the president and the gullibility of his supporters, the campaign failed to realize it would only feed into their delusions further. Once released it was believed wholeheartedly. It never crossed their minds to question why an official campaign page would sincerely post their candidate wearing black bloc. Attempts to mock those who believed it only solidified their belief. Tim had underestimated the commitment people had to believing whatever they wanted. This article from reason describes the phenomenon better than it can be described here.
While there is some regret for any lasting damage to the psyche of the people of Richland county, there is greater concern for the total lack of critical thinking demonstrated by elected officials, people, and institutions. To this day many remain convinced, despite the numerous false alarms, that antifa is real, antifa is coming for them, and Sam Grady was at the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally in August 2017, dressed in black bloc.
Marilyn John, The Householder Scandal, and The Future
The Ohio 2nd is an open seat with Mark Romanchuk having been term-limited out. Term limits, gerrymandering, and single-party dominance make for remarkable predictability in Ohio elections. It was really never in doubt that Marilyn John would succeed Romanchuk as representative.
Marilyn had a number of institutional advantages including, among many, leading the local party establishment, having the support and money of the Ohio house speaker Larry Householder, and having the support of the owner of the local news outlet Richland Source who had been her campaign treasurer in previous elections. And the makeup of the district is such that Republicans consistently win north of 60% of the vote.
Nevertheless, Marilyn faced competition from Shelby city councilman Nathan Martin. Strategy discussions in the Grady campaign always concluded John would be the preferred candidate to face in November. The strategy of the Grady campaign was to appeal to angry, apathetic, and disaffected voters. This is much easier when running against John, a careerist, than Martin, a true conservative. But with the aforementioned institutional advantages, there was no worry Martin would win. The John campaign evidently did not feel the same.
For those that are unaware, Republican Speaker of the Ohio House, Larry Householder was recently arrested for allegedly perpetrating the largest bribery scandal in Ohio history. To secure his speakership and the votes to pass the First Energy bailout, Householder spent hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally through super PACs to elect his preferred candidates. The Growth & Opportunity PAC, funded through Householder’s slush fund, sent mailers across the 2nd district attacking Nathan Martin.
As well as Householder’s endorsement which John announced at the start of her campaign, she received $13,000 from Householder, $5,000 from Householder ally Jay Edwards, $13,000 from IUOE and its PAC which previously gave $300,000 to Householder’s Gen. Now slush fund, and $1,000 direct from First Energy. Her 2nd largest expenditure was to Constant Content Co, a front company for Jeff Longstreth to launder money from Generation Now for the benefit of Householder’s enterprise.
Sam is well aware of the institutional advantages Marilyn John holds, advantages that allow her to avoid serious campaigning under the assumption that any Republican could win this district no matter how little interest they showed or what behavior they exhibited. This provides some explanation for why Marilyn’s website is nothing more than a donation page and a bio. And of course Sam has seen the smears against those who would oppose her election. But as demonstrated, Sam has absolutely no regard for his own reputation or interests. He is running not as a politician or a Democrat, but as a citizen who is absolutely tired of the political bullshit Ohioans are fed every year.
And that essentially catches us up to the present apart from some continuing feuds with the RCDP who recently thanked far-right figure Yaakov Menken for accusing Sam of anti-Semitism. Menken has previously defended Trump’s Charlottesville “both sides” remark, defended Robert E. Lee, and said “The killing fields of Baltimore are a violent white supremacist’s dreamland,” thanks to BLM. An exciting story, yes? See, state elections can be fun and interesting too. You should pay more attention.