Sunday, April 02, 2000

Ohio likely battlefield for presidential race




BY HOWARD WILKINSON
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When falls rolls around this year, we have many things to look forward to.

        The Reds smashing the Yankees in the World Series, for instance. That would be nice.

        We also have politics to look forward to. Not so nice, but necessary.

        Here are some things to look for this fall in these parts:

        • Bush vs. Gore: Ohio is going to end up smack dab in the middle of a steel-cage death match between Mr. Gore, the candidate from Harvard Yard, and Mr. Skull-and-Bones of Yale.

        Ohio is always pretty important, but, this time, it might end up doing the coin toss to determine who will be the 43rd president; and that means we'll be seeing quite a bit of Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush this fall.

        The way it works for a Republican candidate in Ohio is that, in order to offset the heavily Democratic vote in northeast Ohio, the Republican candidate must roll up big numbers south of Interstate 70 — particularly in southwest Ohio.

        That puts the heat on Republican party officials in Hamilton County to gin up the turnout here for the presidential candidate; if they do, it might bail out a few of their more shaky local candidates.

        • Bedinghaus vs. Portune: Speaking of shaky candidates, Mr. Bedinghaus, the Hamilton County commissioner running for re-election, has been doing a pretty good Don Knotts impression for some time now.

        Cost overruns at the Bengals new stadium and, now, early bad reviews for the drawings of a new Reds ball park, which looks as boring as a government office building, have left Mr. Bedinghaus reeling.

        And if, in October, Mr. Bedinghaus is writing multimillion dollar county checks to Cincinnati's reportedly professional football franchise because they couldn't find enough rubes out there to buy up all the seats in Paul Brown Stadium, you can kiss him goodbye on election day.

        Right now, the only thing Mr. Bedinghaus has going for him is that his Democratic opponent is Cincinnati City Councilman Todd Portune. Go outside the city into Hamilton County and you'll find a whole lot of Republicans. And in the suburbs, Cincinnati City Council members are about as popular as termites.

        • The Ohio House races: Because of Ohio's term limits law, there are five open seats in Hamilton County alone.

        In three of them, the Hamilton County Republican Party just went through a brutal primary in which insurgent conservative candidates took on the party-endorsed candidates. The “insurgents” called for less government and less taxes, which, in most parts of America, qualifies you as a loyal Republican.

        But, in Hamilton County Republican politics, fund-raising ability and willingness to spend your free time running errands for the party leadership ranks higher than ideology on the list of qualifications for public office.

        Two of the three insurgents won. In the 37th Ohio House District, anti-tax crusader Tom Brinkman Jr. is the GOP candidate. His ticket to Columbus has been stamped because he is running in one of the most heavily Republican districts in the state. The party leadership doesn't much like it, but they're stuck with him.

        Even more interesting is the 32nd Ohio House District, in Cincinnati's northern suburbs, where insurgent Jim Raussen — a recent transplant from Butler County — beat party candidate, Tawana Keels Simons.

        Dale Van Vyven, the term-limited incumbent Republican, has held that post since dirt was invented. But it is not necessarily a solidly Republican district.

        Six years ago, Wayne Coates, the Democratic mayor of Forest Park, came within about 3,500 votes of knocking Mr. Van Vyven off. Mr. Coates is at it again; he's the Democratic candidate in 2000 and many think he is the favorite to knock off a Republican with no roots in the district.

        What this means is that the Hamilton County Republicans will have to spend a considerable amount of resources in the 32nd District to save the seat for a candidate who knocked off their endorsed primary candidate.

        Life is just not fair sometimes.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics. His column appears Sundays. He can be reached at 768-8388 or at hwilkinson@enquirer.com.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer.

WILKINSON ARCHIVE