Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Today, voters tell candidates what counts

Less than 50% in Ohio expected to cast ballots

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Now, it's up to the voters.

After all the fund raising, glad-handing, mudslinging, ad-running and door-knocking, today it comes down to the simple act of voting. Polls are open from in Ohio from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Without a presidential election and few competitive congressional campaigns to boost turnout, statewide candidates were taking nothing for granted Monday.

On the ballot in Ohio are races for governor, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer. Just as important, political parties say, are the two seats on the seven-member Ohio Supreme Court. One county commissioner and the auditor in each county are up for re-election, plus a litany of local issues from school levies to regional light rail.

But it's the top of the ticket that gets the most attention, and all eyes were on Gov. Bob Taft and his Democratic opponent, Tim Hagan, on Monday. Each candidate spent time in their geographic base - Mr. Taft in Cincinnati; Mr. Hagan in Warren - as they tried to motivate and mobilize their supporters.

Both candidates are increasingly using technology to get out the vote. If you're a registered voter who has voted in a party primary, odds are you've gotten a phone call in the last few days reminding you to vote.

Those "live" calls come from hundreds of political volunteers. In addition, recorded messages from the candidates and other proven vote-getters - President Bush for the Republicans, President Clinton for the Democrats - urge the faithful to vote the party line. Republicans said they expect their automated calls to reach 1.1 million voters.

At least 10 voters received a call from a real-live candidate.

"I'm not sure they believe it when they first hear me," said Mr. Taft, who took a turn at the Hamilton County Republican Party's phone bank Monday. "Or maybe they think it's one of those recorded messages. They seem pretty polite, pretty nice and appreciative."

While the gubernatorial candidates try to get voters to the polls, candidates for lesser offices just want to keep them there.

"Being down-ballot is a definite challenge," said Democratic spokeswoman Lauren B. Worley, who notes, "A lot of people don't know what the treasurer does."

Polls show that Mary Boyle's race against Ohio Treasurer Joe Deters presents one of the best opportunities for Democrats to break through, but it's hard to get voters motivated.

"The problem a lot of Democrats have is voter drop-off. They vote for the top of the ticket, and then they get tired, or their kid is grabbing at their leg, and they don't make it to the end," Ms. Worley said.

Ohio's chief elections official, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (defending his office against a challenge from Democrat Bryan Flannery), predicts statewide turnout of 47.34 percent.

Hamilton County, where turnout has historically been higher and where countywide races and issues may buoy voting, is expected to top 55 percent. Projections differ in Butler (44 percent), Clermont (38 percent) and Warren (56 percent).

But those projections came before forecasters predicted rain for today. Conventional wisdom has it that Republican candidates are more effective in getting their voters to the polls when the weather is poor.

Democrats know they have their work cut out for them.

At a get-out-the-vote rally in Bond Hill on Monday, former mayor-turned-talk show host Jerry Springer bought breakfast for about 170 Democratic Party faithful, and followed it with a pre-election pep talk.

"If every American had to vote, there's no way we'd have the policies we have that only benefit the wealthy," Mr. Springer told them. "If all young people had to vote, there's not a politician with a breath in his body who would ever vote for a tuition increase.

"Don't tell me you love America if you're not voting," Mr. Springer said. "I get incensed when I hear people say they're raising tuition. I want to say, `You young punk, don't complain if you're not voting.' And I know, God bless 'em, they're the ones watching my show."

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com