Capitol Insider: Ohio's Vax-a-Million falls short, as did similar efforts in other states

Darrel Rowland
The Columbus Dispatch
George Ripley, 72, of Washington, holds up his free beer after receiving a vaccine shot last month in Washington D.C.

Million-dollar drawings in Ohio and other states.

Custom hunting rifles and shotguns in West Virginia.

Two laps around the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

New cars in Guam.

Free beer in Washington, D.C.

Girl Scout cookies in Indiana.

The gamut of incentives offered across the U.S. and its territories to persuade reluctant Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 shared a common theme.

"People aren’t buying it," Dr. Irwin Redlener, head of the Pandemic Resource and Response Initiative at Columbia University, told Politico.

“The incentives don’t seem to be working — whether it’s a doughnut, a car or a million dollars.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom holds up a lottery ball at the California Lottery Headquarters on June 4 while drawing numbers for California's new vaccine incentive program.

Ohio figures as of Thursday afternoon showed that 5,536,519, or 47.36% of the state's population, has been vaccinated with at least one dose.

Those fully vaccinated: 5,095,794, or 43.59% of Ohioans.

That's lower than the country as a whole, where 53.7% have gotten at least one shot and 45.6% are fully vaccinated, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ohio's share of fully vaccinated residents ranks 28th in the country. 

Vaccinations did show a solid uptick the first two weeks of Ohio's million-dollar drawing, which also awarded a four-year scholarship to a state college or university. But the numbers quickly leveled off during the final three weeks of the giveaways.

Abbigail Bugenske, 22, from Cincinnati, the first winner of Ohio's $1 million Vax-a-Million vaccination incentive prize, is interviewed during a news conference May 27.

DeWine says $50 million in free publicity for vaccinations is a success

Gov. Mike DeWine's spokesman Dan Tierney said the governor "did not expect (the rise in vaccinations) to be a full five-week increase. It accomplished what we hoped, it pushed some people who were on the fence to get a vaccine."

DeWine believes the boost in vaccinations from just the first two weeks were significant enough to count the incentives a success, Tierney said.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine set to announce Ohio's new Vax-a-Million program last month.

That doesn't take into account such intangibles as an estimated $50 million worth of free publicity, he said. Ohio's ground-breaking effort was not only highlighted throughout the state, but also on morning and evening national network news shows as well as Fox and CNN.

"It changed the tenor of the conversation," Tierney said, by putting the prospect of getting a vaccination "in very positive terms.”

A  "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" was being offered by the Republican National Committee for Donald Trump's Ohio rally on Saturday in Lorain County.

Donald Trump's return to Ohio brings back over-the-top political posturing

"Do you NOT want to see your ALL-TIME favorite President speak at his MOST HISTORIC rally yet?"

That was the message from the Republican National Committee — obviously still all-in for the former president — which was giving away two rally tickets to Saturday's Donald Trump rally at the Lorain County fairgrounds.

The GOP package included airfare and lodging, with a total estimated value of $3,000. While the fine print in the official rules says an entrant doesn't have to make a donation to win — which likely would make the contest illegal in many states — the RNC's email about the promotion contains a live link in bold text to "contribute ANY AMOUNT RIGHT NOW to automatically be entered for your chance to win 2 VIP tickets to MEET President Trump at his Rally on Saturday."

Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee, touting an anticipated new social media platform from Trump, solicited funds by saying, "Ignore this = deny Trump!"

A fund-raising missive in the guise of a "poll" from the National Republican Congressional Committee pits Trump vs the Fake News

The House GOP sent a separate money missive "From: Donald’s iPhone." Another said "Donald wanted me to check up on you."

"Donald" never does reveal his last name, signing the fund-raising email merely as "NRCC Regional Political Director."

Not to be left out, Senate Republicans' latest solicitation began: "We asked our team to pull the names of President Trump’s BEST supporters, and you’ll never believe it, but YOUR NAME was at the TOP of that list. To put it simply: YOU have earned a spot on the Trump Majority Membership roster."

In his last visit to Ohio before Saturday's rally in Wellington, then-President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at the Pickaway County Fairgrounds in Circleville on Oct. 24, 2020.

On the other side, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — citing stories from CNN and others saying Trump may run for Congress from Florida and seek to become speaker of the House if the GOP takes the majority — was seeking cash with the message "we need Democrats in Ohio to pledge by midnight to stand with Speaker Pelosi against this brazen Trumpian plot — but your answer is MISSING!"

And the Ohio Democratic Party sought to generate $20,000 before the visit: "We don't know what's on the president's agenda or what lies he'll spew, but we have to be prepared to fight back."

Trump himself, making his first Ohio visit since an Oct. 24 re-election campaign rally in Circleville, said through his Save America PAC: "Big crowds in the Great State of Ohio this weekend for the Trump rally. See you on Saturday night. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, AGAIN!"

It all makes one wonder: How are all of these folks going to raise cash if Trump ever disappears from the scene?

Future President Joe Biden and then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich embrace after participating in a discussion on bridging political and partisan divides at the University of Delaware in 2017.

John Kasich: Almost last in straw poll for GOP presidential favorite in 2024

Not exactly surprising for a Republican who spoke at last year's Democratic National Convention, but former Ohio Gov. John Kasich finished third from the bottom in a straw poll on prospective 2024 GOP presidential candidates.

The 371 survey participants at last weekend’s Western Conservative Summit in Denver were asked which “candidates you approve of for president in 2024.” Respondents could vote for as many on the list of a dozen-plus prospects as they wished, or write in their own favorites.

At the top of the heap, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis edged Trump 74% to 71%. Kasich somehow checked in with 0.81% — just behind "none of the above" and below such decidedly non-conservative luminaries as former First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Kamala Harris, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

A conservative publication covering the vote asserted, "It’s presumed these votes came from the liberal journalists who were in attendance at the conference."

drowland@dispatch.com

@darreldrowland