Sunday, July 23, 2000

Votes for a native son

Ohio, Ky. GOP delegates favor Bush-Kasich ticket

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        U.S. Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio, is the overwhelming favorite of convention delegates from Kentucky and his home state of Ohio to be George W. Bush's running mate, according to an Enquirer survey.

        Nearly half of the 99 Ohio and Kentucky delegates to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia responded to a mail survey by the Enquirer; and about 40 percent mentioned Mr. Kasich as a preferred choice for the vice presidential nomination.

        The survey also gave a clear sign that abortion is, indeed, the one issue that divides Republicans as they prepare to go to Philadelphia to nominate a presidential candidate.

        For 20 years, Republican party platforms have contained a strongly worded anti-abortion plank, calling for a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

        In the Enquirer survey, 40 percent of the Ohio and Kentucky delegates said they favor removing abortion from this year's platform, while 48 percent said the strong wording should stand.

        As far as the choice for a Bush running mate, no other candidate was even close to Mr. Kasich's 17. Colin Powell, retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — was next with five votes; and home state favorites like U.S. Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio and U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky trailed far behind with four and two votes respectively.

        “I like John Kasich,” said Kentucky delegate Dave Disponett, a 64-year-old land developer from Lawrenceburg. “I like the way he talks; I like the way he handles himself.”

        Mr. Kasich, said Ohio delegate Jean Blackmore of Troy, “brings so much vitality, and he has a lot to add to the ticket.”

        Mr. Kasich, a nine-term congressman from the Columbus suburb of Westerville, was a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination for several months last year, but he withdrew in June 1999 after failing to make a dent in the Iowa and New Hampshire polls and seeing his campaign money dry up.

        But Mr. Kasich, who is House Budget Committee chairman and is not runing for re-electionto Congressthis year, endorsed Mr. Bush and has been campaigning off and on with the Texas governor.

        The Ohioan is one of the potential running mates asked for personal background information by former defense secretary Richard Cheney, who is heading the Bush running mate search. As recently as this weekend, Mr. Cheney himself has been reported as a top contender for the job.

        Insiders say Mr. Kasich's knowledge of Congress would make him valuable to a president from Texas with no Capitol Hill experience. But many also say his reputation as a “live wire” with a knack for attracting attention to himself might detract from the presidential candidate.

        Mr. Kasich was the one and only choice of many delegates surveyed, but some mentioned several names, while seven said they had no preference and would leave it up to their presidential nominee.

        William Roberts, a 50-year-old businessman from Lexington, said Mr. Kasich is his first choice because he “has an understanding of the budget process.”

        “But I would really like to see Alan Keyes or Elizabeth Dole, but I don't think that is going to happen,” Mr. Roberts said.

        The issue of a vice presidential running mate will likely be decided before the Republican delegates and alternates gather in Philadelphia July 31.

        But the much thornier question of abortion may not be resolved, and could end up as the subject of a bitter floor fight in Philadelphia — the last thing the Bush campaign wants.

        The party's platform committee is likely to keep the strong anti-abortion language and present it to the convention for approval. But, under GOP convention rules, a majority of delegates from six states could force a vote in Philadelphia on whether the language stays or goes.

        In the Enquirer survey, many said they want the plank removed for the sake of party unity. And some of those who favor keeping the plank say they would like to see the party make a formal statement saying that people who disagree are welcome as Republicans.

        Janet Howard of Forest Park, a former state senator, said she does not favor removing the plank, but said it should be made clear that “others who do not share this viewpoint are welcome in the party.”

        Kay Ayres, 61, a homemaker and farmer from Hillsboro, said she too is against removing the plank, but would like an addendum.

        “I wouldn't object to adding the acknowledgement that this is not a universal belief of Republicans, nor is it a litmus test for membership in the Republican Party,” Mrs. Ayres said.

        Bill Stone, the 64-year-old president of United Glass Corp. in Louisville, said he wishes the issue of abortion “did not exist at all. Just get rid of the language.”

        But while Kentucky and Ohio Republicans are divided over the abortion plank, they are united in their message to their candidate — win our states, they say, by talking about issues Americans care about.

        “He should continue to discuss his vision for the country and reiterate his success in Texas,” said Ellen Williams of Lawrenceburg, Ky., the chairwoman of the Kentucky Republican Party.

        “Stick with your "compassionate conservative' ideals,” said state Rep. Rose Vesper of New Richmond.

        H.C. “Buck” Niehoff of Cincinnati, the former Hamilton County party chair, said education will be the top issue with Ohio voters this fall. He said the Bush record in Texas “should resonate with the voters. He has a record of accomplishment.”

        “My advice to George W. Bush would be to maintain a family values agenda and pursue truthfulness with the American public,” said Boone County Commissioner Cathy Flaig of Hebron.

        Ruth Fraling-McNeil of Columbus, one of 20 African-Americans in the 138-member Ohio delegation, said she hopes Mr. Bush will reach out to African-American voters, who have voted overwhelmingly Democratic in recent decades.

        “He does have an opportunity to expand his win with non-traditional Republican voters,” Ms. McNeil said, “if he bridges the gaps of misunderstanding and miscommunication.”


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