Sunday, March 05, 2000

As vote nears, Middletown is thinking




BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — The CD Connection has just opened and Grant Brown had the French techno band Air on the store's sound system but John McCain on his mind.

        “I'll tell you one of the main reasons I'm voting for John McCain,” said Mr. Brown, the store's 23-year-old manager, a registered Republican and an MBA student at Dayton's Wright State University. “He's not George Bush. That's enough for me.”

VOTING PROFILE
  Middletown population: 54,766.
  Butler Co. population: 350,000.
  Voter registration (countywide):
  • Republican — 19,306.
  • Democrat — 9,819.
  • Reform Party — 224.
  • Independent — 125,816.
  1996 presidential election results (countywide):
  • Republican Bob Dole — 67,032 (55 percent).
  • Democrat Bill Clinton — 43,690 (36 percent).
  • Reform candidate Ross Perot — 10,540 (9 percent).
        Unlike some voters in this industrialized Butler County city, Mr. Brown is not supportive of or smitten by the campaign of Mr. Bush, the son of a former president, the governor of Texas and the GOP front-runner trying to hold off a challenge from the insurgent Mr. McCain in the “Super Tuesday” primary.

        “I think he has been a mediocre governor and he has a weak platform,” Mr. Brown said. “The only reason he is even in the race is because of who he is and because of his dad. But that doesn't mean he'll make a good president.”

        Though it's often taken as a given that most voters no longer follow or care much about politics, it was hard to find anybody on the streets of Middletown who didn't have an opinion about Tuesday's primary.

        In those party elections Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain, an Arizona senator, are vying for the GOP nomination while Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley are battling to win Democratic delegates.

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        “There's a lot to like about John McCain,” continued Mr. Brown. “He has a military background, which I like. He stands up for what he believes in and he just comes across as a very strong leader. Our country needs that.”

        Yet as Charlie Hollon sees it, Mr. Bush is the best candidate.

        “We better nominate and elect (Mr.) Bush or this country is in trouble,” said Mr. Hollon, a 56-year-old truck driver who was discussing GOP politics in Honest Abe's Trading Post, a hybrid between a general store and flea market booth on Middleton's Central Avenue.

        “He's got the experience we need to lead this country,” Mr. Hollon said. “He's conservative, and I like that. But I hope he does something about gas prices. It's terrible and it's killing me.”

        An independent over-the-road truck driver, Mr. Hollon said he paid $2.10 a gallon for diesel fuel while hauling freight earlier this week through New Jersey.

        “Somebody's got to look out for the little man,” he said.

        “Then you better vote Democrat,” store owner David Yeckering said as Mr. Hollon made his point.

        It was around lunch time and Mr. Yeckering was preparing his daily lunch of hamburgers that he and a friend make in a deep red grill located outside the door on the Central Avenue sidewalk.

        In fact, he couldn't shake hands because he was carting fresh red patties of meat from the back of the store to the hot, smoky grill.

        “You guys are just in time. Want a hamburger?”

        After pouring a little water on the grill and closing the front door to keep out the smoke, Mr. Yeckering said he's voting Democrat “because just look at the economy.”

        “The country has done great. I don't ever remember it doing better,” he said. “People around here, like the guys who work at the steel plant, have a little money in their pocket. That helps the businesses around here.”

        Union members like John Sherman often vote Democrat “because Democrats care more about the working man.”

        For years Mr. Sherman was a Teamster and bakery company driver until an accident put him on permanent disability. Now the 58-year-old uses a cane to take his dog, Daisy, on her daily walk.

        “This city is full of union members and working people,” said Mr. Sherman, who was wearing a Teamster hat with two VFW pins as he headed down the corner to D's Carry-Out.

        “I've been a Democrat all my life and that's how I'll vote Tuesday,” Mr. Sherman said, though he hasn't decided between Mr. Gore and Mr. Bradley.

        Down at D's, where the $150 million Powerball lottery jackpot was a big topic of conversation, owner Donna Manning is also planning to vote Democratic.

        She has owned the Sutphin Street corner market for 14 years along with her husband, John. The store is tidy and well-stocked with items that range from food and ice cream to wine and pocket knives. Movie stills of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Roy Rogers and Marilyn Monroe line the wall behind the store's counter.

        Though she believes taxes, especially on small businesses, are too high, Mrs. Manning, 53, plans to vote Democratic — Mr. Bradley is her choice — because the economy has done well with President Clinton.

        “I like the job Bill Clinton has done, but as a person he has some bad morals,” Mrs. Manning said. “But this economy is doing so well I sure don't want to make a change.”

        Bill McCall, 50, can't remember better economic times in the 27 years he has operated Middletown's Mecca Transmission.

        “There's no reason to make a change of parties now,” said Mr. McCall as he inspected the underside of a blue Chevy van that rested atop the hydraulic lift in his garage.

        “I have confidence that Al Gore will do what he can to keep this economy going. I'm voting Democrat. This town is doing pretty good right now just like the rest of the country. I'd hate to see us take a step back.”

        Parts of the city look prosperous, particularly to the east near Interstate 75, where restaurants, shopping malls, big box retailers and stores have all opened over the past few years.

        But the city's downtown hasn't enjoyed the same prosperity. Many stores are vacant and the area seems to have been left behind by the growth out near the interstate.

        “There's been some better days down here, but we still get a fair amount of business,” said Ken Brewer, 61, owner of S-K Motor Sports, a dealer of NASCAR toys and collectibles where anything with driver Dale Earnhardt on it is a good seller.

        Like other voters, Mr. Brewer is probably going to vote for a Democrat, but he isn't sure.

        “I want to know who can help me with this,” Mr. Brewer said as he throws a prescription receipt across the store's counter. It shows a $131 bill, the amount he pays a month for arthritis medicine.

        “My doctor was dropped by my HMO, and now I can't get coverage for my medicine,” he said. “That's a lot of money. I want somebody who can straighten out this damn mess we have with health care in this country.”

        A few doors down at the Jade Dragon tattoo parlor, artist Robb Lee knows the issues he wants addressed but hasn't decided whom he'll vote for.

        He says taxes are too high. He owns guns but does believe the country needs more gun control.

        “Most of my friends and the people who come in here don't care about politics because they feel the politicians don't care about them,” said Mr. Lee, who has complex tattoos covering most of both arms and one side of his neck.

        “I'm a Democrat but I'm not sure I'll vote that way. Guess I'll know by Tuesday.”

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