Scandals Damage GOP Candidates in Ohio
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
If it weren't for the state of Ohio, George W. Bush would not be in the White House. In the 2004 elections, the president won the state, where Republicans dominate all the branches of government. The trouble for Republicans is that recent scandals may endanger their plans for future elections. Bill Cohen reports from Ohio Public Radio.
BILL COHEN reporting:
For the past 15 years, Ohio has had a Republican governor and, for a decade, the legislature here has also been dominated by Republicans. But a flat economy has eroded support for them, and last August the GOP got a huge black eye.
Governor BOB TAFT (Republican, Ohio): There are no words to express the deep remorse that I feel over the embarrassment that I have caused.
COHEN: Term-limited Governor Bob Taft pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor ethics charges for not reporting gifts he had received. He was fined $4,000. The violations surfaced after reports that a major Republican contributor and Taft golfing buddy, Tom Noe, lost $10 million of state money after investing it in rare coins. Last week, Noe was indicted on federal charges of illegally steering $45,000 to President Bush's re-election campaign. Six years ago, Governor Taft had a 65 percent approval rating. Now it's 15, the lowest of any governor in the country. Ohio Democratic Party spokesman Brian Rothenberg notes that's rock bottom for politicians.
Mr. BRIAN ROTHENBERG (Ohio Democratic Party Spokesman): He has the third lowest poll numbers of anybody in the history of polling. The history of polling! This is a red carpet to disaster for Republicans in Ohio, and that means a red carpet to disaster for Republicans nationwide in 2008.
COHEN: Even though no statewide candidates are on the ballot this November, Republicans are under pressure. Environmentalists, gay rights activists and unions have put four election reform issues onto the ballot. Supporters are even going door to door.
PETE (Activist): Hi, there.
Unidentified Woman: Hi.
PETE: How are you? My name is Pete and we're talking to folks about the Reform Ohio Now amendments.
Unidentified Woman: I haven't really read up on it yet.
Unidentified Woman: If you have information, I'll read it.
PETE: Absolutely. If I could...
COHEN: One issue would lower campaign contribution caps from $10,000 to $2,000. Critics say loopholes would help unions, but supporters, mostly Democrats, counter by playing up the corruption angle.
(Soundbite from ad)
Unidentified Announcer: Clean up Ohio. Vote yes on issues two, three, four and five. Restore trust, confidence and faith.
COHEN: Republicans are even under attack from the inside. For years, conservative secretary of state, Ken Blackwell, has blasted GOP leaders for letting government grow too large. When they passed a sales tax hike that brought in $1 billion a year, Blackwell charged they had deserted Republican principles.
Mr. KEN BLACKWELL (Secretary of State, Ohio): We said that we weren't going to raise--have a major tax increase without a vote of the people, and then we give them the largest tax increase in the state's history.
COHEN: Now polls show Blackwell leading Ohio's more moderate auditor and attorney general in the Republican primary for governor next year. That has some Democratic strategists salivating. They figure the extremely conservative Blackwell could become Ohio's Barry Goldwater resulting in a Democratic landslide. Three Democrats have now jumped into the governor's race, and suddenly incumbent Republican Senator Mike DeWine may have a tough fight on his hands. He is now being challenged by Democratic congressman, Sherrod Brown, and newcomer, Paul Hackett, an Iraq War vet. University of Akron political scientist John Green says this flurry of activity is remarkable.
Mr. JOHN GREEN (Political Scientist, University of Akron): We've got a lot of very fine Democrats, that a year ago would not have considered running for anything in the state because it looked like a Republican preserve, that now are thinking about challenging sitting US senators and running in gubernatorial primaries and taking on incumbent Congress persons.
COHEN: Republicans admit that scandals have hurt them, but insist there's time to turn things around. Jason Mauk is political chief for the Ohio GOP and says Democrats don't yet have a sure win in next year's elections, especially if they just go negative.
Mr. JASON MAUK (Political Chief, Ohio GOP): They cannot win statewide elections in 2006 without laying out an agenda for moving Ohio forward.
COHEN: With so much at stake next year, races for statewide office could attract millions of dollars from outside Ohio. Republicans and Democrats on the national level know whoever captures Ohio in 2006 will have significant momentum going into the presidential election two years later. For NPR News, I'm Bill Cohen in Columbus.
INSKEEP: This is NPR News.
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