Thursday, November 09, 2000

Democrats licking wounds

GOP dominates in N.Ky.

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COVINGTON — Northern Kentucky Democrats were nursing yet another political hangover Wednesday morning as they tried to recover from victories claimed Election Day by the Republicans.

        Democratic stalwarts and party leaders tried to find solace in two wins the party did claim — U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas' re-election in the 4th Congressional District and the Kenton County Circuit Court clerk race won by incumbent Mary Ann Woltenberg.

        But as they have in most local elections over the past decade, GOP candidates dominated Tuesday's results.

        • Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush carried all three Northern Kentucky counties with more than 60 percent of the vote as he went on to carry Kentucky by 232,004 votes. • All three of the region's contested statehouse races were won by Republicans.

        • The Republicans' stranglehold on politics in Boone County — the largest population county in Kentucky that is controlled by the GOP — continued as Democratic incumbents Commissioner Lance Lucas and Property Valuation Administrator Paula Goff lost by large margins.

        • After 16 years in office, Kenton County Commonwealth Attorney Don Buring, a Villa Hills Democrat, was defeated by Republican Bill Crockett, a lawyer with no experience trying felony cases.

        Democrats said the Republicans have been making moves toward political dominance for more than a generation.

        “You could see it coming 15 years ago,” said Covington City Commissioner Jerry Stricker, who is active in local and national Democratic politics.

        “The Republicans just keep getting stronger and stronger, and I don't see anything to change that, unless we start coming up with some real attractive candidates,” Mr. Stricker said.

        As the region's population and economy have grown over the last 20 years, so have the number of registered Republicans.

        New people moving in, many of whom take high-paying, white-collar jobs, are more than likely going to be Republican because they are more affluent and are part of the GOP's base of supporters, said Kenton County Clerk Bill Aylor, a Democrat.

        “But this is a conservative area to begin with,” Mr. Aylor said. “Even the Democrats aren't liberal. Many of them vote Republican or have switched parties over the last couple of years.”

        Republican Party leaders say their supporters are far more passionate and excited about politics.

        “It's infectious,” said Fort Wright City Councilman Dave Hatter, a member of the Kenton County Republican Executive Committee.

        “We're excited, and we work hard for our candidates — and that gets our supporters and voters fired up,” said Mr. Hatter. “People are just more interested and passionate about Republican politics.”

        Mr. Hatter, the co-owner of a Cincinnati computer firm, points to the Kenton County Republican Party's Web site, which he designed and maintains.

Party effort
        “We had 200 hits in just the last few days prior to the election,” Mr. Hatter said. “We don't usually get that many in a month. That shows me people are interested in our candidates and our message.”

        Kenton County Republican Chairman Greg Shumate, a Villa Hills lawyer, said much of the party's success can be tied to effort.

        “We outwork the other side,” Mr. Shumate said Wednesday. “The enthusiasm we bring to the table helps put our candidates over the top.”

        Last weekend more than 150 volunteers went door to door for Republican state Sen. Jack Westwood of Erlanger, who won re-election by holding off a strong challenge from Independence Democrat Jaimie Henson.

        “That may have changed the tide in that race,” Mr. Shumate said.

        Democrats hurt themselves in many races by not fielding stronger candidates, some party leaders have admitted.

        For instance, Democratic statehouse candidates John Stephenson and Jeb Holbrook had little money and slim campaign organizations this fall. Both lost big, to Republican incumbents Sen. Dick Roeding of Lakeside Park and Rep. Jon Draud of Crestview Hills.

        But by comparison, Kenton Circuit Clerk Mary Ann Woltenberg had the experience, campaign organization and work ethic to hold on to her courthouse seat for the Democrats.

        “We ran a high-tech, focused campaign,” said Fort Mitchell Democrat Nathan Smith, who managed Mrs. Woltenberg's campaign win over Villa Hills Republican Steve Kramer.

        “We had a good candidate, we put a lot of information in people's mailboxes and we ran a good campaign,” Mr. Smith said Wednesday. “If Democrats have a good candidate and they run an effective campaign, they can win races around here.”


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