Sunday, December 24, 2000

Democrats reaching out to the young

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT MITCHELL — Trying to reinvigorate its political base in the wake of another grim Election Day, Kenton County Democrats have begun a subtle movement to attract younger members to the party.

        The efforts are largely being driven by active young Democrats who are moving gingerly to not offend or alienate the party's old guard, while reaching out to a group that hasn't felt welcome or useful to the party.

        Ed Worland, 54, an Edgewood lawyer and vice chairman of the Kenton County Democratic Party. said young voters will be key to rejuvenating the party in Northern Kentucky.

        “There are a lot of disenchanted young people out there who did not vote in the presidential race and who do not participate in elections and the political process,” Mr. Worland said.

        Democrats say the Nov. 7 election results were a wake-up call to party leaders that something has to change in Kenton County to slow Republican momentum.

        The party has an opportunity to attract and inspire new members by naming a young person as its new chairman. Former Chairwoman Shirley Huelsmann recently stepped down to care for her ailing mother. Democrats are talking to younger potential chairmen, but no names have emerged yet.

        But the party also is compiling a list of younger Democrats who could be recruited to run for county and local government offices in 2002 or later.

        Included are Angie Dixon, an aide to U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas; attorneys Patrick Hughes, Rob Sanders, Jeff Mando, Michelle Keller and Mary Ann Stewart; and Nathan Smith, who operates a manufactured-home business.

        “There's a stable of young talent. The party just needs to get those people involved,” said Cathy Stavros, 31, an active Democrat who recently moved from Kenton to Boone County.

        Added Kenton County Clerk Bill Aylor, one of just three Democratic officeholders in the Republican-controlled county courthouse:

        “Candidate recruitment is not being done by the party, but it needs to be if we want to start winning more elections.

        “When you have good candidates, voters are more likely to go back and forth on a ballot and not just vote for one party, which is something a lot of Republicans are now doing.”

        The Democrats did have some victories and signs of encouragement this year.

        Fort Wright Democrat Mary Ann Woltenberg held onto the Kenton Circuit court clerk's office, defeating Villa Hills Republican Steve Kramer, who had been considered a rising GOP star.

        And Mr. Lucas, a Boone County Democrat, was elected to a second term representing the 4th Congressional District. He carried Kenton County, albeit against a weak opponent, Republican Don Bell.

        But, otherwise, Republicans dominated Election Day.

        GOP state lawmakers Sen. Jack Westwood of Erlanger, Sen. Dick Roeding of Lakeside Park and Rep. Jon Draud all easily won re-election. And, in a race that particularly stung the Democrats, 16-year incumbent Don Buring lost the commonwealth attorney's race to Republican Bill Crockett, who made up for his lack of courtroom experience with an aggressive campaign and a large campaign fund.

        In addition, Republican President-elect George W. Bush handily won more than 60 percent of Kenton County's presidential votes.

Shrinking the gap

        Republicans also have closed a huge gap in voter registrations over the last 25 years.

        In the mid-1960s, the registered Democrats held a 6-to-1 advantage over Republicans in Kenton County. But as of the Nov. 7 election, that lead had fallen to less than 2-to-1.

        Democrats claim 42,848 voters compared with 36,084 Republicans and 12,157 independents, according to the Kentucky secretary of state's office.

        Local Democrats can not and should not be completely blamed for losing members and elections to the Republicans.

        Conservative Reagan Democrats began fleeing the party en masse in the 1980s. They were frustrated with the liberal bent and policies of national Democratic candidates and leaders.

        In the 1990s, even though Bill Clinton professed a more moderate platform and won Kentucky in 1992 and 1996, he failed to carry any of Northern Kentucky's counties.

        Some Democrats here believe the party has let Republicans define them on the local level as tax-and-spend liberals who don't tow a conservative line.

        But Democratic Party leaders say that is not the case. They point to Mr. Lucas and how he often distances himself from Democrats in Congress and on the national level.

        While often criticized by Democrats for that posture Mr. Lucas — the remaining Democrat in Kentucky's eight-member Washington delegation — is now being viewed in some ways as a visionary for the Democratic Party.

        “There are issues that Ken Lucas stands for that I and other Democrats are very much for,” Mr. Worland said.

        “I don't want tobacco gutted because it means a lot to Kentucky farmers and families, I don't agree with Al Gore on stiffer gun control, and I don't agree with his stance on abortion. That's the message we need to send.”

        Kenton County Magistrate Steve Hoffman said young people are being wooed into the Democratic Party.

        “It's happening right now,” Mr. Hoffman said. “We have events planned, and we have members out there talking to younger people. We know we need to do that, and we know we need to be better organized.”


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