By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Jerry Springer's name recognition is almost identical to that of Sen. George Voinovich, but 71 percent of registered voters surveyed said they had an unfavorable opinion of the TV talk show host and former Cincinnati mayor, according to a University of Cincinnati poll released Monday.
Not only that, but Cleveland-area state Sen. Eric Fingerhut - a virtual unknown outside northeastern Ohio - would fare better against Voinovich in a theoretical match-up for the U.S. Senate in 2004, the poll found.
Voinovich, the Republican incumbent, leads Fingerhut by 43 points, compared to 61 points over Springer in the same poll. It's the first major, scientific poll to track the campaign.
Springer aides say the 59-year-old talker can bring Ohio Democrats two things their statewide candidates have lacked during the last 12 years of statewide GOP domination: money and name recognition.
The University of Cincinnati's Ohio Poll asked 638 registered voters their opinion of the 2004 U.S. Senate race. Partial results:
Q: Would you say you have a favorable opinion of Jerry Springer? An unfavorable opinion? That you know too little about him to say? Or that you have not heard of him?
Favorable: 13 percent.
Unfavorable: 71 percent.
Know little: 14 percent.
Not heard of him: 2 percent.
Q: Suppose the 2004 election for United States Senator was being held today and the candidates were: Jerry Springer, the Democrat, and George Voinovich, the Republican. Which would you vote for?
Voinovich: 77 percent.
Springer: 16 percent.
Q: Suppose the 2004 election for United States Senator was being held today and the candidates were: Eric Fingerhut, the Democrat, and George Voinovich, the Republican. Which would you vote for?
Voinovich: 67 percent.
Fingerhut: 24 percent.
- Source: UC Institute for Policy Research
Pollster Eric Rademacher said that could be a double-edged sword for Springer, whose show often features overweight strippers, cheating lovers and profanity-laced shouting matches.
"One of the things that analysts tend to focus on is name recognition, and they often forget that name recognition can be positive or negative," Rademacher said.
Perhaps most daunting for Springer is that Voinovich, a former Cleveland mayor, fares better with Ohio Democrats than Springer does, according to the Ohio Poll.
The poll, conducted by UC's Institute for Policy Research between Feb. 7 and Feb. 23, surveyed 638 registered voters.
The margin of error was 3.9 percentage points.
Springer, who floated the idea of a U.S. Senate bid to Democratic county chairmen in Columbus in January, said last month he was encouraged by what little support he has to date.
"Right now, there's been no campaign. Why would anybody think I'd be a good senator? If all they know about me is my show, I'm surprised it isn't at zero percent," he told the Enquirer.
Springer's campaign is still in an exploratory phase. Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke, a long-time Springer loyalist dating back to Springer's first run for Cincinnati City Council, said the numbers won't deter the Springer camp.
"Frankly, they're about what all of us expected all along. The issue has always been whether Jerry Springer would be judged as a talk show host or as a candidate and political leader. And the only way to establish his credentials as a political leader is to get out and talk to voters," Burke said.
Springer is making the rounds of 15 to 20 Democratic events around the state in the coming months, including one tonight in Montgomery County.
Fingerhut, a 43-year-old former congressman, will also be there to introduce himself to southern Ohio voters. In the poll, 94 percent of respondents statewide said they knew little or nothing about him.
He noted that was before he formally announced his campaign March 2.
Fingerhut said he's in the race, Springer or no Springer.
"What Jerry Springer's involvement in this campaign does is force the Democratic party to concentrate its mind on how it wants to present itself to the voters of Ohio. I just don't think the party of John Glenn is going to become the party of Jerry Springer," he said.
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