Monday, October 30, 2000

Toledo vote often key to Ohio

Many voters eschew party affiliations

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Call it Ohio's bellwether. Toledo area voters have correctly picked the presidential candidate to win Ohio in every election since 1960. That 40-year time span covers 10 races, six of which were won by Republicans.

        As the race for the White House enters its final frenzied stage, the eyes of political strategists are focused here — not simply on Toledo, but on voters living in the 11 counties within reach of its television, radio and print media outlets.

        Northwest Ohio can conjure up quick images of Toledo, its factories and thousands of blue-collar union workers who vote.

        Party leaders often use these political first impressions to paint the words “Democratic stronghold” across the region with a broad brush.

        That impression may not be accurate.

        Among an estimated 65,000 Lucas County voters who registered with the two major parties, 60 percent are Democrats. Of the 88,400 party voters in surrounding suburban and rural communities, Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-1.

        The result is a wash that lets nonpartisan voters — who far outnumber registered Democrats and Repub licans — or turnout dictate who wins.

        This region is always up for grabs.

        In a hard-fought contest with Democratic Vice President Al Gore, Texas Gov. George W. Bush may be looking here for a key to unlock the state's 21 electoral votes. The fact that Toledo broadcasts reach Michigan, another important battleground state, also cannot be overlooked.

        Mr. Bush has been here twice. More than 5,000 voters in this supposed Democratic area turned out at a Toledo Express Airport hangar to cheer him on Thursday night.

        “I like his tax-cut plan,” said one cheerleader, Al Kallquist, 58, of Holland. “I'm on a fixed income. I'm more than willing to take some money back.”

        Mr. Kallquist, a United Auto Workers retiree and a registered Republican, is one Lucas County resident who breaks the stereotypical mold.

        “It's been sickening to be a conservative in this county,” he said.

        While Toledo ward voters do favor Democratic candidates, the rest of Lucas County and its 10 neighboring counties lean Republican.

        Northwest Ohio appears to be leaning toward Mr. Bush this year, according to the latest Ohio Poll, which showed the Texas governor leading Mr. Gore, 52 percent to 41 percent.

        Mr. Bush enjoys an 8-point lead statewide in the Ohio Poll.

        Alice Siglar, a grandmother who lives in nearby Ottawa County, says Mr. Bush can win over voters here.

        “I'm tired about this story of our economy being so great,” she said. “We need a change.

        Holland resident Jessica Matney and her mother, Gloria Black of Toledo, say they've already decided to vote for Mr. Gore.

        “The economy is the best it's ever been,” Ms. Matney said. “I think things should continue the way they are.”

        Mrs. Black said she's angry that Mr. Bush would come to her back yard — twice. “I don't like it,” she said. “This is a Democratic county.”

        Among the nonpartisan voters is Gretchen Fineske, a Toledo school teacher. She says both candidates have yet to say anything courageous or exciting, and that's disappointing.

        “I'd like to see a situation where a politician comes out and says, this is what I'm for and if you don't like it you can vote me out of office next time,” Ms. Fineske said.

        If she had to vote now, Ms. Fineske said, she'd probably choose Mr. Bush.

        “There's no better place to be right now than northwest Ohio,” said Eric Rademacher, director of public polling for the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research. “It has all the pieces of this election at once.”

        Both candidates have worked to get out the vote in Ohio's traditional Republican and Democrat regions: Cincinnati and Cleveland.

        “Now they're trying to steal votes from one another,” Mr. Rademacher said.

        But is Toledo the key? Local party leaders agree their region is always important, but neither is willing to call it vital.

        “This mystique is lots of fun,” said Paula Ross, the Lucas County Democratic Party chairwoman.

        Who wins in the Toledo area won't mean anything, Ms. Ross said, if Cuyahoga Democrats turn out with huge numbers. The same holds true for Republican turnout estimates in Cincinnati.

        Though excited by all the attention from the Bush campaign, Lu cas GOP Chairman Patrick Kriner won't say his hometown will determine who wins statewide.

        “I'm not sure I agree with that,” he said. “Based on demographics, this region is significant and our candidates realize that.”

        Though Ms. Ross said she expects a strong turnout from Lucas Democrats, she also said a visit from Mr. Gore would help. “It would bring renewed enthusiasm to our volunteers, and bring in hundreds of new volunteers — even with only a few days left,” she said. “We know (Lucas County) will likely go for Al Gore over George Bush, but the question is, "How big?'”


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