NEWARK — First-time political candidate Michelle Newman seems to have been the right candidate at the right time to connect with voters in a high-turnout election during a deadly pandemic.
Newman, a Democrat from Newark, soundly defeated Ron Hood, an eight-term state representative from Ashville, in Tuesday’s race for the Ohio State Board of Education.
She earned 64% of the vote in the 13-county District 9, which includes Licking, Fairfield, Guersney, Muskingum and Coshocton counties. Newman won 63% of the vote in her home county and 71% in Franklin County. She won 10 of the 13 counties, eight with at least 60%. Hood’s best showing was 54% in Holmes County.
“It’s all a little overwhelming now,” Newman said. “It’s very humbling. I honestly had no idea. Obviously, in a race like this we don’t do any polling. I think people were really surprised with the margin. It’s a pretty big gap there.”
Newman, 42, has managed local political campaigns, earned a bachelor’s degree in communications, and runs a small business marketing company, so she had the expertise to get her message out, despite the coronavirus pandemic which limits person-to-person contact.
“Campaigning with COVID, you do campaigning on a computer and over the phone,” Newman said. “I did a lot of digital advertising, Facebook, newspaper, billboards, Google and some small public events. A very strange range of running for office.”
Her ability to inform the public not only helped her win the election, she believes it will help her in her new job, a part-time position with a 4-year term beginning in January.
“I feel like it’s one of the strengths I’ll bring to the State Board of Education,” Newman said. “A lot of people don’t even realize the State Board of Education exists.”
The State Board of Education is comprised of 19 members, 11 elected and eight appointed by the governor.
Newman calls herself an advocate for public education, saying it should be the state’s top priority.
“Some of the biggest issues are making sure public education has a voice at the state level,” Newman said. “Our public schools are not guaranteed to us right now. Some actively (oppose it). We have an unconstitutional funding model.”
In her campaign literature, she stated, “I want to make sure that all kids get equal access to amazing learning opportunities no matter where they live. Our kids’ success should not be dictated by their zip code. We must work to build a stronger funding model for our schools so there is less tax pressure on our communities.”
Newman acknowledged the non-partisan nature of the race may have helped her in Republican counties, as candidates do not have a party identification on the ballot. But, she said, the lack of party identification forced some voters to do some research on the candidates.
“With a quick Google search people could figure out my party identity pretty quick,” Newman said. “I’ve been a pretty open and proud Democrat for a long time.”
Voters who did research on Newman discovered she is executive director of the Canal Market District in downtown Newark, but does a whole lot more. She serves on the boards of the Robbins Hunter Museum and the Granville Area Chamber of Commerce, on the steering committee of the Downtown Newark Association, and the planning committee for Licking County’s Women’s Leadership Network.
She has also been a fitness instructor at Denison University and served as vice president of marketing for the Young Leaders of Licking County until March. She was selected by the The Advocate as one of the 20 under 40 honorees for 2017. She completed a 144.6-mile triathlon in 2015, and has a daughter in second grade.
“More than likely, I’ll continue with Canal Market District,” Newman said. “Of course, I’ll probably have to start saying ‘no’ to things.”