Voinovich lost votes to Issue 2, not to foe

Sunday, May 10, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Let it be known that this young man from Blue Ash, David McCollough, who ran against George Voinovich in Tuesday's Republican U.S. Senate primary, is a jolly good fellow.

Which nobody can deny.

He is bright and presentable and well-spoken; and, no doubt, his friends and family consider him the salt of the earth.

But Mr. McCollough's friends and family do not number 206,720. That is how many Ohio Republicans went to the polls Tuesday and cast a ballot for Mr. McCollough over Mr. Voinovich for the GOP Senate nomination.

That amounts to 28 percent of the vote.

Now, perhaps some of those 206,720 thought that the 31-year-old school teacher from Blue Ash was the David McCullough who is the award-winning historian - biographer and narrator of Ken Burns documentaries, and just wanted to reward him for a job well done.

But, chances are, the vast majority of that 206,720 had no earthly idea who David McCollough is, except that he is not George Voinovich. And that, apparently, was all they needed to know.

The governor has been on the statewide political scene for 20 years now, his name recognition is near universal in Ohio, and his job rating as Ohio governor has been phenomenally high.

But Tuesday was also the day when Issue 2, the state sales tax increase, was on the ballot, and the issue was tied closely to Mr. Voinovich.

Mr. McCollough, as it turned out, proved to be a better vote-getter among Republicans than Issue 2 was statewide. About 80 percent of the electorate -- four out of every five voters -- went to the polls and said no to the tax increase for schools that Mr. Voinovich and the Republican legislature was pushing.

It is almost inconceivable that a ballot issue -- any ballot issue -- could be beaten that badly. You would think it would get more votes than that by accident.

By the time it was over, there was no doubt in anybody's mind that this was a loss for George Voinovich as well. It was the second election in a row where a Voinovich-inspired ballot issue went down in flames. Last fall, the governor stumped the state trying to sell a package of workers' compensation reforms that nobody was buying.

This time, he was a bit more discreet; he made no appearances in the television ads touting the sales tax increase, but everyone who had been following the issue knew that this idea had the imprimatur of the governor.

And, if they didn't know, the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, former Cuyahoga County commissioner Mary Boyle, was there to remind them. She spent the bulk of her campaign bankroll on a statewide TV ad campaign in which she tried to see how many times she could say "Voinovich tax increase" in 30 seconds.

During the campaign, while the pro-Issue 2 forces were busy throwing their $3.5 million campaign fund down a sinkhole, Mr. McCollough was taking on the role of an un-bandaged Claude Rains in The Invisible Man. He spent virtually no money, had no advertising, received scant media attention and was generally unseen.

How, then, did these 206,720 Ohio Republicans find out about the candidate from Blue Ash and decide they knew enough about him to want him as their U.S. Senate candidate? Divine inspiration? Telepathic communication? We met Mr. McCollough; he never indicated that he could bend spoons with his brain waves or anything like that.

So how did they know?

The short answer is, they didn't.

This was the classic protest vote. None of this means that Mr. Voinovich will lose the Senate election this fall, but it can not give Mr. Voinovich much peace of mind. What this was was three out of every 10 Ohio Republicans who went to the polls telling Mr. Voinovich they were not very happy with him; and the probable cause of their unhappiness was, no doubt, Issue 2.

And, if that is the case, you could have put a can of red beets on the ballot Tuesday and it would have gotten 206,720 votes.

Howard Wilkinson's column runs on Sundays. Call 768-8388.