Big stakes in bids to split Ohio's pot
Sunday, August 9, 1998

The jackpot is up to $22 million.

No, not the Ohio Super Lotto. You can't buy a ticket for this one. In fact, there's no way you will ever see a dime of this dough.

This $22 million is how much the candidates for statewide office in Ohio -- for governor, U.S. Senate, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and auditor -- have in the bank three months from the election.

And, like the Lotto, this jackpot will keep growing until there is a winner.

It won't be 13 machinists from Westerville splitting up this pot. Instead, it will be a small army of political consultants, pollsters, advertising agencies, television production companies, network-affiliated TV stations, and direct-mail concerns who will be lined up at the trough.

It is an awful lot of money -- but, even so, it is just a fraction of what will be spent on political campaigns in Ohio this fall, when you throw in what will be spent in the congressional district races, the judgeships, the state legislature, and a host of county offices and issues in 1998.

And here's a news flash: The bulk of it will be spent by Republicans. Dog Bites Man, Film at 11.

The GOP statewide candidates account for about $15.3 million of the pot so far; the Democrats have about $6.8 million.

Math was not our best subject, but we believe this means the Republicans will outspend the Democrats by better than 2-to-1.

And you know what that means in an age of politics where money rules.

This has to be a worrisome thing if you happen to be someone like David Leland, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, whose job it is to win back the statehouse clout the Democrats lost in the GOP landslide of 1994.

You may think that these statewide elections are about who would make the best governor, secretary of state etc. Well, yes. But for the political parties, there is much more at stake.

For most of us, the end of the '90s means the end of a millennium, a momentous occasion when a page of the world's history is turned. For Ohio politicians, it means another census is coming; and that spells reapportionment.

After every census, the lines are redrawn for Ohio's congressional districts and state legislative districts, and this noble work is done by the state apportionment board. There are five seats, controlled by the governor, the secretary of state, the auditor and the Ohio House and Senate.

The House and Senate board seats are controlled by the Republicans; and likely will be for the foreseeable future. If Ohio Democrats could win the other three offices, they could control reapportionment and make life miserable for Republicans for the decade to come. But the odds of that happening are about the same as the odds of you being conked on the head by a meteor.

It's money, you see. Right now, GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Taft has raised about $6.8 million, while Democrat Lee Fisher has about $5.3 million. That's almost a fair fight.

But go down the ticket and the gap between rich and poor widens. Ken Blackwell, the incumbent Republican treasurer who is running for secretary of state, has about $1.2 million, compared with a measly $156,667 for his Democratic opponent, Charleta Tavares. The incumbent Republican auditor, Jim Petro, is sitting on $771,468. His Democratic opponent, Louis Strike of Cincinnati, has chump change -- $56,971. The average Cincinnati City Council candidate spends twice that.

Yes, the Democrats will do better than that in the long run; they'll all keep raising money. But so will the Republicans, and the gap probably won't narrow.

What the Democrats needed was a few fabulously wealthy candidates who could finance their own campaigns, a la Ross Perot.

What they needed was a slate of Westerville machinists.

Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer.