Sunday, March 05, 2000

Ohioans lured to the polls

Candidates wooing 'issue-only' voters

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        He who wins Ohio's Republican presidential primary Tuesday will be the one who finds his voters this weekend and gets them to the polls.

        Turnout strategies are key in the contest between Arizona Sen. John McCain and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who leads in all the Ohio polls.

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        That is why thousands of Ohioans will find volunteers for the presidential contenders on their doorsteps and phoning their homes this weekend, pleading for support.

        “We are going to make sure Republicans decide this in Ohio,” said Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters, a Bush supporter, referring to earlier McCain primary wins in New Hampshire and Michigan, where Mr. McCain benefited from extensive crossover votes from independents and Democrats.

        For Mr. McCain, who campaigns in Ohio today, the key is persuading hundreds of thousands of voters who usually take an “issues only” ballot in primary elections to ask for a Republican ballot this time.

        Saturday morning, when about 50 local McCain supporters gathered in the parking lot of the Blue Ash Recreation Center for a pep rally before fanning out to go door-to-door with McCain fliers, the emphasis was on persuading independent voters to cast ballots for Mr. McCain on Tuesday.

    Call it “Super.” ” Or “Titanic.”
    Whatever the sobriquet of choice, Tuesday will be the biggest primary day in the history of the U.S. presidency — 13 Republican contests, Democratic voting in 15 states and one territory, and each party's nomination perhaps hanging in the balance.
    By the time everything is counted, Democrats will have awarded 1,315 delegates — almost 61 percent of the 2,170 needed for nomination. On the GOP side, 613 delegates are at stake, almost 59 percent of the 1,034 needed to clinch.
    Titanic could also be a metaphor for the staggering campaign of Bill Bradley. He is 0-3 in Democratic primaries, and could fall to 0-19 if Vice President Al Gore sweeps the states in which he is favored Tuesday.
    On the GOP side, March 7 also could see the beginning of the end of John McCain's fascinating, if quixotic, race for the nomination.
        Mark Policinski of Montgomery and Rick Bryan, the Republican vice mayor of Blue Ash, passed out lists of independent voters in Hamilton County, asking the volunteers to call them this weekend with the McCain message.

        It is particularly important to reach those voters, McCain Ohio campaign organizers say, because those independent “issues only” primary voters tend to vote for Republicans in general elections.

        “A lot of the people you will be calling are independents who have been voting for Republicans in presidential elections since Eisenhower,” Mr. Bryan told the volunteers. “They will welcome your call.”

        Jacking up the turnout in Ohio to record levels is considered a key to the McCain campaign's success in Ohio because it will mean more of those independent voters will be taking a partisan ballot Tuesday. Based on what Ohio elections officials are saying, the McCain campaign will get what it has been asking for — a large turnout.

        Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's chief elections officer, predicted the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries will draw a record number of voters, somewhere between 2.6 and 3 million — far higher than the record 2.4 million who turned out in 1984, when there was a spirited contest on the Democratic side.

        This is the first presidential primary contest since Congress passed the “motor voter” law, which allows people to register to vote when they get driver's licenses or some other government services. Mr. Blackwell said the law has added another 1 million voters to the rolls in Ohio in the past four years.

        No one knows whether those new voters will take Republican or Democratic ballots Tuesday, but the McCain campaign is targeting them.

        Most of the Republican Party establishment in Ohio and Hamilton County is lined up behind Mr. Bush and is hoping to energize its base of hard-core Republican primary voters to come out Tuesday for Mr. Bush.

        Saturday morning, in the parking lot at Broadway Commons downtown, about 50 Bush volunteers gathered to kick off a day of leafletting in heavily Republican neighborhoods around the county.

        The door-to-door campaign was organized by Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen, who walked several residential streets in Green Township and turned out many of his employees and college-age Republicans to hit the streets Saturday.

        The aim, he said, was to get Republicans to go to the polls, “because most Republicans want to see Bush nominated.”

        For Ohio Republicans supporting Mr. Bush, the good news is that large numbers of Democrats in Ohio are unlikely to ask for Republican ballots Tuesday as they did in Michigan.

        Here, Democrats have their own presidential primary to decide, although all of the statewide polls suggest that Vice President Al Gore will defeat former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey by a large margin.

        Nevertheless, Bradley supporters are out in force in Southwestern Ohio this weekend. Saturday, Bradley volunteers in Cincinnati worked the morning crowd at Findlay Market; today they will be going door-to-door in College Hill before many of them board a bus to attend their candidate's appearance tonight in Cleveland.

        Much of the Gore activity in Ohio has been handled by organized labor, which is backing the vice president.

        Union volunteers affiliated with the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council have distributed 100,000 pieces of literature backing Mr. Gore and other union-endorsed candidates at work sites here; and labor union phone banks are calling 10,000 “probable voters” this weekend.

        Dan Radford, executive secretary-treasurer of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council, said the Gore-Bradley contest has turned out to be “not much of a race.”

        “It's been interesting,” Mr. Radford said, “but there's a part of me that wishes we had all the time we spent on it back — and the money.”

        The McCain campaign says Democrats are welcome to jump ship into the Republican primary. All they would have to do is sign an affidavit at the polling place if they had voted in the previous Democratic primary.

        In Hamilton County, there are dozens of areas where voters will have no ballot issues to decide Tuesday. So if they want to vote on something, they'll have to take one of the primary ballots.

        Blue Ash, Forest Park, Harrison, Loveland, North College Hill, Reading, Sharonville, Springdale, Wyoming — all are among the places where there are no ballot issues, and Mr. McCain's forces hope to persuade those voters to take GOP ballots.

        “The more people who vote,” said Cincinnati City Councilman Pat DeWine, a McCain supporter, “the better we do.”

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