Sunday, September 17, 2000

Cranley memorizes district geography

Congressional candidate seeks western support

        You have to have something between your ears to get through Harvard Law School, as John Cranley, the Democratic candidate in the 1st Congressional District race, did.

        That's no matchbook cover college. It's not some big state school like we went to, where, if you could make change for a dollar or pat your head and rub your belly at the same time, you could get an educayshun.

        That's Big Time higher ed, as Dick Cheney might say. Major League, as his pal Dubya would put it.

        But for all that Harvard book-larnin', it is clear that the 26-year-old Democrat's best subject as a politician is grade school geography.

        The fellow can read a map.

        Mr. Cranley, a first-time candidate, is running against a Republican incumbent, Steve Chabot.

        About 40 percent of the vote in the district is in the City of Cincinnati, a Democratic town. The rest is in the western suburbs where Republicans rule.

        It is a place that, on the face of it, looks like a district that could go either way, with almost equal percentages of Republican and Democratic voters. But the Republicans usually vote in greater numbers and Mr. Chabot has won the last three elections despite having millions spent to defeat him.

        The last person to try was former Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who was, at the time, considered the strongest possible challenger

        Mr. Chabot could face.

        After all, she had been top vote-getter in three straight Cincinnati City Council field races. But she lost, with 47 percent of the vote.

        One of the principal reasons she lost was that her campaign did not seem to understand the political geography of the 1st District.

        To the Qualls campaign, the map of the 1st District looked like this: First, the City of Cincinnati, east of Interstate 75, with streets and houses and people. Beyond that, the west side of Cincinnati, inhabited principally by log cabin settlements.

        Beyond that, the terra incognita of Delhi and Green townships, represented on the map by drawings of hideous-looking horned beasts. Beyond that, the end of the earth.

        Ms. Qualls, for the most part, pretended places like Delhi and Green townships did not exist; the good people of Delhi and Green returned the favor on Election Day.

        She took 64 percent of the vote in the city, with 45 percent turnout. But in Green Township, Mr. Chabot took 80 percent of the vote. In Delhi, his take dropped to 77 percent. And the turnout in those two Republican bastions was about 20 percent higher than in the city.

        Mr. Cranley seems determined not to make the same mistake. He is campaigning hard in Western Hills; his first campaign commercial uses an image of Price Hill Chili, the west side icon.

        All he would have to do is take those 80 percent Chabot numbers and knock them down by about 10 percent, plus find some way to drive up turnout in the city, and this once unknown challenger could be hanging his Harvard sheepskin in a Capitol Hill office.

        Right next to his 1st District map.



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