Ohio holds political clout with presidental hopefuls

Sunday, May 31, 1998

BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Big-time politicians -- the kind who have dreams of living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. some day -- like to help the smaller fish.

They help them raise money. They help them get media exposure. They allow the lowly state treasurer or congressional candidate to bask in the glow of their incandescence.

They do this because they are good, loyal party soldiers, because they want to help the next generation of politicians make its mark. And they do it for themselves.

Ohio is always a key state in a presidential election year; 2000 will be no exception.

That is why, over the next five months, you will see presidential hopefuls parading through this state to help everybody from their party's gubernatorial candidate to the county coroner.

Republican Steve Forbes, the millionaire magazine publisher who began his 2000 campaign the day after his 1996 campaign ended, has been in Ohio enough times in recent months to qualify for the state income tax. Which he wouldn't like one bit.

The GOP's "youth candidate," John Kasich, wears Converse shoes in Congress and projects an image that says, "This is as hip as it gets in the Republican Party, folks. "

Mr. Kasich, a Westerville Republican, spends most of his free time in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two early primary and caucus states. But he is not too busy to come to Ohio, as he did two weeks ago, to help out U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot in his tough 1st District race. Mr. Kasich is smart enough to know that he will need support from his home state -- where he is not well-known outside his central Ohio district -- if he is to break out of the constantly multiplying contingent of GOP presidential wanna-bes.

And it didn't take George W. Bush, the Texas governor and son of the former president, very long to figure out where Ohio was on the political map.

Last week, he showed up in Cincinnati for Ohio GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Taft. It seemed every Republican in town -- particularly the well-heeled ones -- was eager to see this Bush in the flesh, and the Taft campaign raked in about $500,000 for the gubernatorial campaign.

Dan Quayle has been here and gone, but don't you worry, he'll be back.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, who has presidential ambitions of his own, has already been stumping the state for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mary Boyle.

And if the two principal contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination -- House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and Vice President Al Gore -- don't show up in Cincinnati at some point for Mayor Roxanne Qualls, the Democratic candidate in the 1st Congressional District, we will turn in our membership card in the American Society of Political Pundits.

They will, in fact, be all over Ohio, lending a helping hand to candidates such as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lee Fisher and other congressional candidates who need a little push in the fall.

But the biggest political Bigfoot who will make his way to Ohio this year is not even running for anything in 2000.

Bill Clinton will do a fund-raiser for Mr. Fisher in Cleveland next month, and he is, of course, the biggest ticket-seller of them all.

It drives Ohio Republicans crazy that Mr. Clinton, with his 64 percent approval rating in Ohio, can be counted on to boost Ohio Democratic campaigns. Four years ago, when his approval rating in Ohio was 20 points lower, Democratic candidates didn't even want Air Force One to fly over Ohio.

Mr. Fisher is the president's host in the Democratic stronghold of Cleveland, but given that the president's approval rating in the allegedly Republican Cincinnati area is at 61 percent, Mr. Fisher could have brought Mr. Clinton here as well.

We wonder if Ms. Qualls has thought of that.

Howard Wilkinson's column runs on Sundays. Call 768-8388. E-mail: hwilkinson@enquirer.com.