Tuesday, October 26, 1999

Hopefuls ride the shoe-leather express

Candidates gather votes one at a time

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The way to your vote is the path to your door. This local politicians have known for decades.

        A good pair of shoes. Firm handshake, quick introduction and a smile throughout. Leave a flier, leave an impression.

        At higher political levels, from countywide to national elections, the art of campaigning has evolved to include elaborate Internet Web sites and other technological advancements.

        But while a few Tristate candidates this election season use technology — typically computer-generated fliers or basic e-mail — it hasn't changed the game.

        “It's won at the doors,” said incumbent Democratic Cheviot Mayor J. Michael Laumann, who joined city council in 1974. He wears Rutherford dress shoes “and I think I have a hole wearing through.”

        Lessons learned in the school of soft knocks.

        For many, neighborhood

        campaigning heats up this week and culminates at the polls on Election Day, Nov. 2.

        On the dozens of ballots in Hamilton, Butler, Warren and Clermont counties, there are a combined 877 candidates (most school board and municipal council) and 31 larger-race candidates, including the 26 going for Cincinnati-wide positions.

        “It's all face-to-face, door-to-door,” said incumbent Newtown council candidate Nancy Devore.

        Mrs. Devore, 34, and another candidate held a picnic at Short Park last month for voters. Hot dogs, potato salad, soda. And the quick political pitch. Now that Election Day is approaching, she's on front porches. Jeans and sneakers, Reeboks. Most of the time, she brings her kids.

        Technology is fine, some local candidates assessed, but a computer screen isn't a name and a face at your door.

        And it can't improvise.

        Mayor Laumann of Cheviot agrees. “We toyed with a Web site, but we're not there,” he said. “I'm not real computer-savvy, but it's probably on the horizon. The countywides and citywides, I see they all have Web sites — but the computer, it's too impersonal for me. I've been doing this since 1974, and I haven't changed my style.”

        Courting voters in person varies. Some residents slam shut their doors, others pepper candidates with questions. “Sometimes a half-minute, sometimes 45 minutes,” said John Ungruhe, independent challenger for St. Bernard auditor.

        And local elections are not without their quirky twists.

        One recent election, Mayor Laumann defeated an unofficial challenger named Webster, a springer spaniel that last year rode in the Harvest Home Parade in a car with red, white and blue streamers.

        This year, Webster is campaign manager for his owner, music executive Shad O'Shea Lovdal, a political first-timer running for Colerain trustee.

        Mr. Lovdal agrees with Mr. Laumann on at least this much: It's about shoe leather.

        “We all get the flier with the guy with his arm around his wife and four highly polished children,” Mr. Lovdal said. “And it's the same old crap.”

        This week, he plans to mail 18-inch-by-28-inch folded fliers to every registered household in Colerain, 24,600 in all. They feature Webster and praise Mr. Lovdal for spending “hundreds of hours going door to door.”

        “I'm not into this Internet stuff for politics,” he said. “I want to talk to people and have a meaningful conversation. I don't think technology is relevant.”

        Two candidates who don't entirely agree with that are Norwood school board hopeful Rick Guy and Daniel Hanus, who is running for Montgomery council.

        Both are first-timers. Both see potential in technology.

        “My computer is my saving grace,” said Mr. Guy, who uses Excel to tabulate sign locations and coordinate poll-site campaigners. He has no election Web site but communicates with fellow candidates and potential supporters through e-mail.

        But, he added, it's only a supplement. His strategy is appealing to voters face-to-face, most frequently at football games and club functions. A recent “coffee” at the home of Joe and Mary Morgenroth drew between 70 and 80 would-be voters, Mr. Guy recalled.

        Mr. Hanus, a 36-year-old research and development manager at Procter & Gamble, takes technology a step further.

        He not only has a Web site but also said computer software allows him to tailor handouts and mailings to the specific concerns of each neighborhood, be it commercial development or sewer improvements. He has printed about 10 different fliers so far.

        It has saved him money.

        “Printing and reproduction versus sending out this way, I've saved $500, easily,” he said.

        “Many retired people, like my dad, don't have computers and Internet access, and you have to be sensitive to that,” said Mr. Hanus, who added that he plans to “hit every door at least twice.”

        Mr. Ungruhe, the St. Bernard auditor candidate, said he's knocked on about 750 of St. Bernard's 2,200 doors so far. “A lot of older folks appreciate that knock on the door,” he said.

        Only one resident didn't. He had a sign for Mr. Ungruhe's opponent on his front lawn.


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