By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer
When Cleveland-area state Sen. Eric Fingerhut announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, Jerry Springer strategist Mike Ford joked to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "Who's Eric Fingerhut?"
Almost completely overshadowed by Springer's high-profile pre-campaign campaign, Fingerhut has turned that offhand remark into a campaign slogan of sorts.
When Fingerhut and Springer first met in Montgomery County in March, Fingerhut brought a stack of freshly printed bumper stickers: "Who's Eric Fingerhut? Ask me!"
"I am the candidate who is going to challenge George Voinovich's record all over this state every day for the next 20 months," he said, answering his own question.
The 43-year-old former one-term congressman doesn't have Springer's money or name recognition. But Springer's household name cuts both ways, he noted.
"He's on a one-way street that doesn't lead back to public office. I think voters will make clear to him that he made his choices, and now he's got to live with those choices.
"My mother always used to say you are what you do. I am what I do. He is what he does."
Fingerhut and Springer have crossed paths several times already - first in Dayton, then Cleveland, Evendale, Port Clinton and again in Cleveland last weekend.
Each time, Springer speaks last. (Asked why that is, Springer simply flashed a broad, mischievous smile.)
Each time, Fingerhut gives carefully prepared remarks. Springer speaks off the cuff.
Each time, Fingerhut gets polite applause all around. Springer gets a mixed reaction - most people give him a standing ovation; a few sit on their hands.
Fingerhut is a policy wonk. Springer is a big-picture kind of guy.
"I know this may not be the most exciting speech you've ever heard in your life," Fingerhut told a statewide meeting of autoworkers in Evendale last month, a tacit admission that he can't compete with the glitz and glamour of a Springer campaign. "But let me tell you this: I will take these issues to every single voter in the state of Ohio."
In speeches, Fingerhut outlines an economic agenda that he said would encourage entrepreneurship: student loans should be fully tax deductible, regardless of income; the government should give incentives to universities to patent new, commercially useful technology; and the capital gains tax rate should be cut to zero on startup businesses.
"You have to ask what it is that we're after. I'm after the economic prosperity for everyone in this nation - rich, poor and middle class," Fingerhut said.
"All I hear from Jerry is this battle between rich and poor. His message is, 'I was poor and now I'm rich and now I see that it's a vast conspiracy to defraud the poor.' It rings pretty hollow from a guy who's made his living exploiting folks. You can get votes by telling people they're victims of a conspiracy, but you won't improve the country."
For his part, Springer doesn't take on Fingerhut directly. But in speeches around the state, he plays the role of outsider, railing against "career politicians."
"Once you make politics your career, you have intellectually sold out. Because in order to feed your family, you have to sell out your integrity to get re-elected," Springer said. "I would be the only one in the U.S. Senate not running for president. I was born in England anyway."
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