6th District is pickings
for right pol

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

If long-term job security is your goal, Ohio's 6th Congressional District is probably not the place to launch your political career. The Sixth, which stretches over 200 miles from Marietta to Lebanon, has been something of a revolving door for U.S. congressmen in recent years.

Republican Bob McEwen of Hillsboro was turned out in 1992 by Democrat Ted Strickland, a little-known Methodist minister and prison counselor from Lucasville.

Two years later, another political novice, Frank Cremeans, who ran a cement business in Gallipolis, rode the wave that made Newt Gingrich speaker and upset Mr. Strickland.

Last year, 6th District voters decided two years of Mr. Cremeans was enough and sent Mr. Strickland back in his place.

Now, with Ohio's Republican lieutenant governor, Nancy Hollister, announcing her plans to run in 1998, the door may be swinging again. Mr. Cremeans is toying with the idea of running again, but Ms. Hollister is clearly the favorite of the Ohio Republican Party establishment and the Washington GOP crowd. As soon as the word began to circulate this spring that Mr. Cremeans was considering a comeback, Republican heavyweights such as U.S. Rep. John Boehner, chairman of the House Republican Conference, began lobbying Ms. Hollister to abandon plans to run for secretary of state and take on Mr. Strickland instead.

A former mayor of Marietta, Ms. Hollister has been George Voinovich's lieutenant governor for seven years now. Ordinarily, a lieutenant governor doesn't have a great deal to do, but Mr. Voinovich has put her in position to be able to make herself well-known from one end of the sprawling 6th District to the other.

She headed the governor's Office of Appalachia, which has taken her into every small town and hollow of southeast Ohio; and, in March, when the Ohio River flooded dozens of 6th District towns, she was the governor's point person on flood recovery and relief.

She is the kind of politician southern Ohio likes - she is just folks; she is cheerful to the verge of perkiness; and her campaign events take on the appearance of high school pep rallies.

The political professionals in Washington look at this district asa string of 14 rural counties with no major media markets; they fret about how a campaign organization has to buy TV ad time on stations in Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton and even Huntington, W. Va.

But beaming spectral images of candidates with pithy sound bites into every hoot-and-holler is not what 6th District congressional politics is all about.

This is about keeping the gas tank full and rotating your tires every 10,000 miles.

Sixth District voters want to see their candidates in the flesh; and that means spending months in a car, racing from Marietta to Athens to Gallipolis to Portsmouth, with stops in Wilmington and Wellston.

Fortunately for Mr. Strickland and Ms. Hollister, both candidates are very good at this sort of thing; they are the kind of politicians who will go anywhere two or more voters are gathered.

And in the 6th District, that means voters want you to show up at the Clinton County Fair and make a bid in the 4-H pie sale; they want you to be there for the Old Time Fiddlers' Contest in Nelsonville, even though your musical tastes might run toward the classical. They expect you to get on your hands and knees in Pomeroy and goose a bullfrog with an ice cube in the annual frog-jumping contest. After all, if you can't make a frog jump, what good are you?

Howard Wilkinson's politics column appears Sundays.