Sunday, November 3, 2002

Commissioner hopefuls try personal touch

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The final push to become Hamilton County's next commissioner will take on a decidedly personal touch in the final days leading up to Election Day.

While Republican Phil Heimlich and Democrat Dr. Jean Siebenaler have debuted new television commercials in the past two weeks - considered essential, if impersonal, elements for any legitimate run at countywide office - each candidate will use the last hours before Tuesday's election to wave at cars, shake hands and personally urge everyone they see to cast a vote for them.

The two are running for the spot on the three-member commission being vacated by Republican Tom Neyer, who opted not to run again.

Gene Beaupre, a political science professor at Xavier University and observer of the political scene here for three decades, said the personal touch is extremely important this year because races at the top of the ballot won't be a big draw.

"A handful of people pay attention months before an election, but the reality is that the messages start to reach the majority of people in the last days," Mr. Beaupre said. "You don't want to wake up the day after the election and have signs in the basement."

Mr. Heimlich, a four-term Cincinnati City Councilman, has raised nearly half a million dollars for his campaign. He'll literally be reaching out to voters until the polls close by visiting nursing homes, bowling alleys and even pounding in a few yard signs.

"We are working the grass roots very hard," said Chris Finney, Mr. Heimlich's campaign manager and attorney for the anti-tax group, Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST).

"Phil is putting in 15-hour days talking to community groups and knocking on doors," Mr. Finney said. "And we've got a big Election Day presence planned. We'll have more than 300 precincts covered."

Ms. Siebenaler has been grass roots all along. She's had to be.

Raising less than half the money of Mr. Heimlich's campaign and trying to overcome the advantage her opponent has in name recognition has led Ms. Siebenaler to recruit an army of volunteers who regularly join her for "honk and waves."

She picks neighborhoods with a lot of swing voters, then loads up the street corners with hand-waving, sign-holding volunteers. In the evening, homes in those neighborhoods get calls.

"It's a humble way of asking for their vote," Ms. Siebenaler said.

The commission seat, she said, "is going to have to be wrestled away from the Republicans by the people."

Statewide officeholders are joining in the fray for Mr. Heimlich. Attorney General Betty Montgomery has a recorded telephone message urging voters to go to the polls and vote for Mr. Heimlich. That message is being delivered to the homes of some 20,000 targeted voters.

Mr. Beaupre said that, in many ways, the last days of the campaign are the most sophisticated. That's because no matter what the candidates are doing - waving at cars, shaking hands or kissing babies - they have to be the right cars, hands and babies.

"You don't want to go someplace where they're already voting for you, already voting for your opponent or not going to vote at all," Mr. Beaupre said. "There are only so many hands you can shake in the last hours before an election."


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