Sunday, July 30, 2000

Eight people to watch from Ohio, Ky.

By Howard Wilkinson and Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ohioans and Kentuckians at this week's Republican National Convention in Philadelphia will have more to do than be enthusiastic props for the TV cameras.

        A number of them will have key roles in a convention that is carefully staged to build momentum for George W. Bush's campaign for the White House.

        People to watch among the Buckeye and Bluegrass contingents include:

        U.S. Rep. Rob Portman: The Cincinnati Republican has been appointed by the Bush campaign as its point man in Philadelphia on the issue of Social Security.

        Mr. Portman — who worked in President George Bush's White House and has close ties to the Texas governor's campaign — will make the rounds of state delegation meetings this week, making sure Republican delegates understand the Bush message on Social Security.

        Joe Hagin: The Indian Hill Republican took a leave from his job as general counsel at Chiquita Co. this year to take a high-ranking job in the Bush campaign, where he is responsible for scheduling the candidate and organizing campaign events.

        In Philadelphia, he will be the Bush campaign's chief contact with convention organizers from the Republican National Committee, working on the logistics of the four-day event.

        Mr. Hagin is close to former President Bush and his wife, Barbara. During the Bush administration, he worked in the White House as the president's appointments secretary.

        Jim Bunning: The U.S. senator from Kentucky and member of the baseball Hall of Fame is co-chairman of the Kentucky delegation and will return to the city where he enjoyed some of his finest moments as a big-league pitcher.

        He'll use his visibility to help raise money for Republicans, including New York Senate candidate Rick Lazio, at campaign fund-raisers that will be held at Veterans Stadium during preconvention Philadelphia Phillies games this weekend.

        Ohio Gov. Bob Taft: This will be the Cincinnati Republican's first convention as chairman of his state's delegation. His principal job as “cheerleader in chief” will be to motivate Ohio party activists to go back home from Philadelphia ready to work for the GOP ticket.

        The Bush/Cheney campaign will be looking to Mr. Taft and his campaign organization to turn out a large Republican vote this fall in Ohio, a state the Bush/Cheney campaign sees as critical.

        J. Kenneth Blackwell: The Ohio Secretary of State was national chairman of Steve Forbes' bid for the GOP presidential nomination this year.

        But since jumping on board the Bush campaign after Mr. Forbes' withdrawal, Mr. Blackwell — one of a handful of high-profile African-American elected officials in the Republican Party — has been tapped by the Bush campaign to make the cable news talk show circuit touting the Bush agenda.

        Expect to see Mr. Blackwell this week doing the same in Philadelphia, hopping from one network skybox to another for live commentary.

        Mitch McConnell: The senior U.S. senator from Kentucky has been a close adviser to the Bush campaign.

        He is known as a shrewd political operator — he made the Dick Cheney call as running mate back in March on a political talk show. The party's fiercest opponent of campaign finance reform is also a top-notch fund-raiser. But don't look for him out front during the convention. He is a behind-the-scenes operator who rarely shows his hand.

        Elaine Chao: The wife of Sen. McConnell, she is former head of the Peace Corps and United Way and now a Heritage Foundation Distinguished Fellow.

        Ms. Chao was tapped by Mr. Bush to deliver a primetime speech on the convention's first night. The Bush campaign is eager to tell her story of coming to America at age 8 from Taiwan and making good. Her appearance is also an effort to reach out to women and minorities.

        John Kasich: His brief campaign for the GOP presidential nomination failed last year, and he didn't make the cut as Mr. Bush's running mate, but the 47-year-old congressman from suburban Columbus is expected to be one of the Bush campaign's primary surrogate spokesmen, not only in Philadelphia but in the fall campaign.

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