Monday, October 16, 2000

DeWine enjoys 2-1 margin over Celeste

Out of the spotlight, senate race proceeds quietly

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        FAIRFIELD — When customers arrive at Jungle Jim's Grocery Store they expect to be greeted by booming jungle drums and a menagerie of large, plastic African animals. On this chilly October afternoon, about 50 people get a surprise welcome from their U.S. senator.

        Standing appropriately near the big grey elephant, Mike DeWine shakes hands with shoppers, introduces himself, and asks for their support this November.

        Dressed in a flannel shirt, a blue blazer and surrounded by four young grandchildren and his 8-year-old daughter, Anna, the Cedarville Republican is relaxed, attentive and polite. Most of the shoppers say something short and encouraging, like “Nice to meet you,” or “Good luck.”

  Mike DeWine (Republican)
  • Personal: Age: 52. Home: Cedarville. Occupation: U.S. senator. Education: Law degree, Ohio Northern University. Family: Wife, Francis Struewing; four daughters (one deceased), four sons.
  • Experience: U.S. senator, 1995-present; Ohio lieutenant governor, 1991-1994; U.S. representative, 1983-1990; Ohio senator, 1981-1982; Greene County prosecuting attorney, 1976-1980.

  Ted Celeste (Democrat)
  • Personal: Age: 54. Home: Grandview Heights. Occupation: President, Celeste and Associates Real Estate. Education: Bachelor's degree, College of Wooster. Family: wife, Bobbie, two children.
  • Experience: Assistant to Ohio finance director and chief of the Bureau of Consumer services under former Gov. John Gilligan; Ohio State University board of trustees, 1990-99; managed several campaigns for his brother, former Gov. Richard Celeste; Peace Corps volunteer, 1969-70.
        In fact, the reactions here resemble those in five other Greater Cincinnati towns Mr. DeWine has visited this day. Many appear to recognize his face and name, and that's about it.

        “I guess he's done OK. I don't know his position on a lot of things,” said David Sheppard, a Miamisburg retiree who met Mr. DeWine in a Lebanon ice cream shop. “I guess if he'd screwed up, we'd have heard about it.”

        Remarks like that frustrate Ted Celeste, the Democratic candidate who is best known for being the brother of former Gov. Richard Celeste.

        Caught between a presidential race that has grabbed voters' attention and a meager supply of cash, the Columbus businessman has struggled to draw interest to his campaign.

        A grueling eight-day bus tour with stops in each of Ohio's 88 counties was his most recent attempt to build some momentum. But daytime appearances in Butler, Hamilton and Warren counties last week produced, at most, 25 voters, many of whom were local Democratic Party officials.

        “I didn't even know Ted Celeste was running against (Mr.) DeWine,” said Ruth Fenton, a West Chester mother who met the candidate at a Middletown school. “I'm almost embarrassed to admit that. I consider myself fairly active.”

        As his “Common Sense Express” bus drove to the next county, Mr. Celeste was not surprised to learn what Mrs. Fenton had to say.

        “People don't know me,” he said. “It's been 14 years since there was a Celeste on the ballot.”

Lack of controversy
               It may seem hard to believe a U.S. Senate race could fade into Ohio's political woodwork. But Mr. DeWine has carefully avoided any controversy that can attract opponents while socking away millions in his campaign war chest.

        The former lieutenant governor, congressman and state lawmaker won his seat with 53 percent of the vote in a spirited 1994 campaign against Joel Hyatt, the son-in-law of the man Mr. DeWine replaced — Howard Metzenbaum.

        While many expected Mr. DeWine, 53, would be a loyal conservative vote for his party, the veteran politician's record shows a more moderate lawmaker willing to work with Democrats on some issues.

        His biggest accomplishment, the Workforce Investment Act, streamlined 60 federal job training programs to give states more flexibility to help welfare recipients find work.

        Mr. DeWine's partner in passing that law was Sen. Paul Well- stone, a Minnesota Democrat who is among the Senate's most liberal-minded.

        “I call it welfare reform, part two,” Mr. DeWine said. “You can't put people off welfare without helping them find something to do.”

        Campaign finance records show the senator spent $2.5 million during his term to promote his re-election bid.

        In June, he still had $3 million in the bank.

        “That kind of money can scare away a lot of competitors,” said Steve Weiss, an analyst for the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, a bipartisan campaign reform group.

        “If the Democrats thought Celeste had a chance against DeWine they'd have given him a lot of money,” Mr. Weiss said. “I don't know what the polls say, but financially, it's a runaway.”

        On the road, Mr. Celeste, 54, remains doggedly upbeat and opti mistic. At Middletown's Roosevelt Elementary, he talks about his opposition to high-stakes accountability tests that have angered teachers and parents.

        At a Hamilton County nursing home, he highlights a plan to lower prescription drug costs. The fact that his audience consists of only three elderly ladies does not appear to bother him.

        A Columbus real estate broker, Mr. Celeste has never held an elected office, though he has managed campaigns for his brother. He also was an Ohio State University trustee from 1990-99.

        However, Mr. Celeste was not his party's top choice. In 1999, Democratic leaders, who have not won a non-judicial statewide race in the past two elections, reportedly tried and failed to enlist former Attorney General Lee Fisher, Mr. Hyatt and former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan.

        David Leland, the state Democratic Party Chairman, briefly floated controversial talk show host Jerry Springer as a contender, sparking an intense internal debate.

        Mr. Leland does not hesitate to praise Mr. Celeste. But the party's money, and funds from allied interest groups, clearly are headed elsewhere.

Presidential priorities
               The party's top priority is Al Gore's presidential campaign. A close 12th Congressional District race between Maryellen O'Shaughnessy and Republican Pat Tiberi in suburban Columbus is drawing millions from national party leaders and interest groups.

        Further down the ticket, groups representing teachers, organized labor and trial lawyers will spend millions to re-elect Democratic Ohio Supreme Court Justice Alice Robie Resnick.

        As a result, June finance records showed Mr. Celeste had only $300,000 in his campaign fund. That figure is not expected to dramatically increase between now and Nov. 7.

        “If I had a basketful of cash, this race would have been much different,” Mr. Celeste says. “My message resonates well with voters — if they get it.”

        On the campaign trail Mr. Celeste calls Mr. DeWine a pawn of corporate interests. He says Mr. DeWine's voting record shows he has supported those interests at the expense of Ohio's families and children.

        The Celeste campaign lists several votes Mr. DeWine has taken to either cut funding or to oppose funding increases for student loans and grants, after-school day cares, health care for uninsured children, new teachers and smaller classes. He claims those votes cost Ohioans a potential $6.8 billion.

        He also criticizes Mr. DeWine for voting against a Democrat-backed Patients Bill of Rights. He said insurance companies opposed that plan because it would let patients sue HMOs.

        “I don't have any corporate special interest hooks in me,” he said.

Commercial blitz
               The DeWine campaign's response has been to blanket airwaves with television commercials. In one, the senator thanks voters for their support. Another describes him as a champion in a crusade to protect Ohio's children.

        “When I see a child that's sick or in danger, I think that could be my child,” he says.

        The ads touch on Mr. DeWine's work to pass new laws that gave $50 million to pediatric research efforts, set up a national poison control hot line and another that expanded adoptions by 30 percent.

        About the $6.8 billion, Mr. DeWine says he often votes against Democratic proposals if they usurp local control over government programs and schools.

        Despite Mr. Celeste's efforts, opinion polls indicate many voters have already made up their minds.

        A September Ohio Poll conducted by the University of Cincinnati showed 63 percent of likely voters favor Mr. DeWine and only 31 percent support Mr. Celeste. Libertarian candidate John McAlister, and Natural Law Party candidate John Eastman earned 2 percent each in the survey, which margin of error of four points.

        Mr. DeWine downplays those poll results, saying he plans an aggressive campaign effort through Nov. 7. Mr. Celeste disagrees, saying the low-profile campaign plays into his opponent's hands.

        Says Mr. Celeste: “It's in Mike DeWine's interest to have no race.”

Libertarian, Natural Law parties define growing numbers as victory


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