Sunday, August 27, 2000

Numbers don't lie at polar opposites in Ohio

        You, of course, see yourself as a person, not a number.

        And well you should. You have your own hopes and dreams, beliefs and ambitions, shoe size and annoying personal habits.

        You are a human being.

        But, if you live in Hamilton or Cuyahoga counties in Ohio, you are also a number. Or so say the political professionals who will try to steer you to Al Gore or George W. Bush this fall.

        In Ohio politics, there is a mathematical formula that can guarantee success for one presidential ticket or the other; and it all depends on you, Mr. and Ms. Hamilton-and-Cuyahoga Counties.

        It starts with the premise that Hamilton County has more Republicans than Reese's has Pieces; and that, in the northeast corner of the state, the counter-balancing weight of Democratic voters can, when it has a mind to, cancel out the Republican vote down south.

        Both the Gore-Lieberman and Bush-Cheney campaigns are well aware of the Ohio formula.

        The very first thing the Republican ticket must do is make sure it wins Hamilton County by at least 60,000 votes. When it does,
Ohio's electoral votes go in the GOP column. It works every time:

        • 1980: Ronald Reagan wins Hamilton County by 77,879 votes over Jimmy Carter. Mr. Reagan wins Ohio.

        • 1984: Mr. Reagan wins Hamilton County by 105,685 votes over Walter Mondale. Ohio goes for Reagan-Bush.

        • 1988: George Bush wins the county by 88,650 over Michael Dukakis. Mr. Bush wins Ohio.

        • 1992: Mr. Bush wins the county, but by only 44,038 votes. Bill Clinton wins Ohio.

        • 1996: Bob Dole takes Hamilton County by 26,535 votes, but Mr. Clinton wins the state.

        For Democrats, the task is winning Cuyahoga County by 120,000 votes or more. To wit:

        • 1980: Jimmy Carter takes Cuyahoga by 52,565 votes. Loses Ohio.

        • 1984: Mr. Mondale's Cuyahoga margin over Mr. Reagan is only 78,532. Ohio to Reagan.

        • 1988: Mr. Dukakis has 110,962 margin in Cuyahoga. Loses state.

        • 1992: Mr. Clinton wins Cuyahoga by 150,272. Wins Ohio, too.

        • 1996: Clinton-Gore wins by 177,587. Bob Dole is soon doing Viagra ads.

        What this means is that if you would like to have a nice, quiet fall with plenty of time to watch the leaves change color and catch the World Series and college football, you should be thankful you are not a Democratic leader in Cuyahoga County or a Republican one in Hamilton County.

        In Hamilton County, the pressure is flowing down from the Bush campaign through the Ohio Republican Party to the county party and, ultimately, to the ward and precinct level to find every possible Republican voter and get him or her to the polls on Election Day.

        There is plenty of motivation for them to do it — a big turnout of Republicans here could not only decide Ohio and maybe the whole presidential election, but it might also boost struggling local candidates such as Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus.

        So, no, the local GOP establishment does not think you are merely a number. It just hopes you will agree to be one on Nov. 7.

Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer.