Saturday, February 19, 2000

GOP rivals call DeWine soft

Senator sets his sights on Nov. campaign

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Mike DeWine's campaign for a second U.S. Senate term is already focused on beating whichever of the four Democrats wins a primary picking his November opponent.

        That puts a sour taste in the mouths of Frank Cremeans and Ronald Dickson, two Republicans running against Mr. DeWine in the March 7 primary. Not only does the senator ignore them, party leaders and public opinion polls belittle either man's chances of winning.

        Despite that, both insist conservative voters who see Mr. DeWine as a turncoat on gun, abortion and farm issues will carry them to victory.

        “I've got an army of people who are all fired up,” said Mr. Dickson, an Oxford resident and gun show promoter.

        “I polled 52 Republican voters. All say (Mr. DeWine) is either soft or weak,” said Mr. Cremeans, a former congressman who owns a Gallipolis cement company.

        Mr. DeWine says he is neither a turncoat nor weak. He sees his opposition as a normal consequence of Washington lawmaking.

        “You're not going to make everyone happy,” the senator said. “We always expect a primary.”

        He is expected to win this primary. A University of Cincinnati Ohio Poll released Friday showed 84 percent of likely Republican voters back Mr. DeWine. The poll has a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

        Ten percent said they would vote for Mr. Cremeans and 5 percent said they did not know whom they would pick. Voters were not asked about Mr. Dickson.

        Results like these led Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett to dismiss Mr. DeWine's challengers. The Republican State Central and Executive Committee endorsed Mr. DeWine Feb. 11.

        “I think there is a little revenge playing in these races,” Mr. Bennett added.

        Mr. Bennett said Mr. Dickson is upset about the senator's vote for gun restrictions. And he said Mr. Cremeans is angry about a $1,000 check Mr. DeWine gave to former Lt. Gov. Nancy Hollister's 1998 run for Congress.

        Mr. Cremeans ran against Ms. Hollister in the primary race for Ohio's 6th Congressional District. Mr. Cremeans held the seat from 1995-1996, but was defeated for re-election by Democrat Ted Strickland. Ms. Hollister defeated Mr. Cremeans' 1998 bid, but lost the general election to Mr. Strickland.

        Mr. Cremeans said GOP leaders did not believe an anti-abortion candidate like himself could beat Mr. Strickland. He said Mr. DeWine's support for the pro-choice Ms. Hollister casts doubt over the senator's pro-life record and his ability to stand up to party leaders.

        He also blasted the senator for supporting a 23,000-acre wildlife refuge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to establish in Madison and Union counties. Many area farmers fear the government will use eminent domain powers to seize their lands.

        Mr. Dickson echoed similar concerns about the proposed refuge. He said Mr. DeWine's support for a gun bill is his other reason for running.

        The Senate passed a measure last year that would require criminal background checks at gun shows. Gun control advocates say the restrictions would close a loophole that lets criminals buy guns.

        Mr. Dickson is the promoter of National Gun Day, a Louisville show that draws thousands of licensed gun dealers and collectors. He said the loophole doesn't exist, and called the bill another step to strip citizens of their legally owned guns.

        “It would have put me in jail,” Mr. Dickson said.

        The bill failed to pass the House.

        In response, Mr. DeWine said he supports law-abiding citizens' Second Amendment rights, but he supports laws that keep guns away from criminals and children. He said his anti-abortion record is second to none. He said the proposed refuge is voluntary and no farmer would have his lands taken from him.


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