Ohio Silver!

If the Democrats are going to win the Senate this year, Brown has got to defeat GOP incumbent Mike D

hide captionIf the Democrats are going to win the Senate this year, Brown has got to defeat GOP incumbent Mike DeWine in Ohio.

Controversial Ohio freshman holds on to her seat.

hide captionControversial Ohio freshman holds on to her seat.

For the first time in Indiana history, a senator may run unopposed.

hide captionFor the first time in Indiana history, a senator may run unopposed.

If there is one state that is most responsible for President Bush's re-election victory in 2004, it is Ohio. The Buckeye State went for Bush over John Kerry by 118,000 votes, and its 20 electoral votes are credited with putting the president over the top.

Now, if there is any state that symbolizes the fall in fortunes for the Republican Party, it is Ohio. Gov. Bob Taft may have the lowest favorability ratings of any governor in the country. Last year, he pleaded no contest to criminal misdemeanor charges regarding the acceptance of gifts. A top Ohio Republican fundraiser for the president, Tom Noe, is under a 53-count indictment, charged with embezzling millions of dollars in state investment funds

The scandals have turned Ohio, where Republicans have controlled the governorship for 16 consecutive years, into a very inviting target for the Democrats. Taft is term-limited and can't run again, but his presence is weighing down Republican chances this year. Polls have shown Congressman Ted Strickland, who easily won Tuesday's Democratic gubernatorial primary, with a consistent lead over his GOP counterpart, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.

Republican Sen. Mike DeWine, who is not thought to be in any way touched by scandal himself, is nonetheless running scared in his bid for a third term against Congressman Sherrod Brown. And several GOP members of the House are thought to be in some degree of trouble in November — notably Bob Ney, whose ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff forced him to relinquish his post as chairman of the House Administration Committee.

Last summer, when the political landscape was not what it is today, I received an e-mail from Pat Bihn, who lives in Rock Island, Ill., but who was born in Fairborn, Ohio, and who still considers himself an Ohioan. "How can the Ohio Democrats be so incompetent?" Pat wanted to know. "Between Mike DeWine and Bob Taft, I just can't understand how such a wounded duck as the Ohio GOP continues to get a 'free pass' from the Dems."

Pat, like many Ohio Democrats, spent years gloomily watching Republicans such as Gov. Taft (in '02), Sen. DeWine (in '00) and Sen. George Voinovich (in '04) win second terms, all in landslide proportions, and all against less-than-stellar opponents. But one gets the sense that 2006 is shaping up to be quite different. Here's a brief review of Tuesday's primaries:

GOVERNOR: Blackwell defeated another statewide GOP officeholder, Attorney General Jim Petro, with 56 percent of the vote. Both are conservatives but Blackwell, who is African-American, is a longtime darling of the religious right. Blackwell has also been far more critical of Taft and the party leadership, knowing that if he is to have a chance in November, he's got to distance himself from the governor, who at this point looks like a real drag on the party ticket in November.

But will moderate Republicans — who were the target of Blackwell's wrath during the primary campaign — unite behind him? It is possible that some black voters may abandon their historical allegiance to the Democratic Party and vote for Blackwell in the fall. But will there be a similar exodus from the GOP by conservative, white, rural voters?

On the Democratic side, Congressman Strickland won easily against former state Rep. Bryan Flannery. Two other potentially strong candidates, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and state Sen. Eric Fingerhut, pulled out of the contest months ago. Democrats haven't won the Ohio governorship since 1986.

SENATE: Ever since DeWine decided to become one of the "Gang of 14" — the 14 mostly centrist senators who worked out a compromise that averted a showdown over Bush's judicial nominees (the so-called "nuclear option) — there has been talk that conservatives would take out their ire at DeWine by lining up behind a serious conservative challenger. No prominent opponent from the right stepped forward to take on DeWine, however, and the two-term Republican won 71 percent of the primary vote against two political unknowns.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-13) won about three-quarters of the vote against the owner of a trucking business. A far more serious primary challenger, Iraq war veteran and liberal activist Paul Hackett, withdrew from the race in February under pressure from party leaders.

HOUSE (18 seats — 12 Republican, 6 Democratic)

PRIMARY RACES OF INTEREST:

2nd Congressional District: Not long after she won a special election last year, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R) made national headlines for her personal assault on the House floor on Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha over his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Former Rep. Bob McEwen, who finished second to Schmidt in the 2005 primary following the resignation of Rob Portman (R), decided to take her on again this year. But the result was about the same: Schmidt won by six percentage points and is clearly favored to retain the seat for the GOP in November.

4th Congressional District: State Sen. Jim Jordan won the GOP primary and is heavily favored to succeed retiring Rep. Mike Oxley (R).

6th Congressional District: Without a doubt, the most entertaining primary of them all. From day one, state Sen. Charlie Wilson was the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination to succeed gubernatorial candidate Strickland. All he had to do to make the primary ballot was to submit 50 valid signatures. He left that task to his son, who was also his campaign manager. Bad move.

While 98 signatures were submitted, most came from outside the congressional district. Which meant that Wilson failed to qualify for the ballot. Which meant that Wilson — and the Democrats — had to spend a small fortune to instruct voters on how to write in his name.

Republicans had a lot of fun with this, running ads attacking one of the Democrats on the ballot, political unknown Bob Carr, as a dangerous liberal, if for no other reason than to raise Carr's profile and get Democrats to rally behind him, instead of the far more legitimate Wilson. The ruse, however, failed: Wilson easily won via the write-in effort — and should go into the fall campaign no worse than even against the GOP nominee, state House Speaker Pro Tempore Chuck Blasdel .

13th Congressional District: This is the seat Sherrod Brown is vacating to run for the Senate. Democrats nominated former state Rep. Betty Sutton, who had the endorsement of EMILY's List, the Democratic pro-choice organization. She topped a primary field that included former Rep. Tom Sawyer, shopping center magnate Capri Cafaro, and Gary Kucinich, brother of Rep. Dennis Kucinich of the 10th District. The Republican nominee is Craig Foltin, the mayor of Lorain.

18th Congressional District: Rep. Bob Ney (R) is probably the member of the House most closely linked to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and many have not ruled out an eventual indictment. He has proclaimed his innocence from the beginning, but that didn't prevent a primary challenge from financial analyst James Harris. Ney won the primary with about 68 percent of the vote. For all of Ney's problems, most of the leading Democrats in the district decided against running. Their nominee in November will be Dover Law Director Zack Space. Ney remains popular with many of his constituents, but if Democrats can effectively link him with the so-called "Republican culture of corruption" — and if they can't do it to Ney, then the issue won't resonate anywhere — then the seat could be ripe for a pickup.

OTHER PRIMARY RESULTS OF NOTE:

— Indiana: For the first time in history, an Indiana senator will not face major-party opposition. Five-term Republican Richard Lugar, who already has served longer than any other Hoosier senator in history, is assured of another term, as no Democrat filed to run against him.

— North Carolina: Mike Nifong, the district attorney in Durham who is prosecuting two Duke University lacrosse players on rape charges, defeated two challengers in the Democratic primary and is all-but assured of another term.

NEXT WEEK'S PRIMARIES:

— Nebraska: Whom will the GOP nominate to face conservative Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson? And can Republican Gov. Dave Heineman withstand the challenge to his post by Republican Rep. Tom Osborne?

— West Virginia: Most people feel Sen. Robert Byrd (D) dodged a bullet when Rep. Shelly Moore Capito (R) decided against running. But how much has the recent death of his wife taken out of the 88-year-old senator?

— Newark, N.J.: With Sharpe James' retirement, is it finally time for Cory Booker, the boy wonder of Newark politics, to reach the mayoralty?

HOW'S BAYOU? Some nice notes regarding last week's column that encapsulated New Orleans mayoral elections for the past three decades and how race played into the campaigns. Anissa Williams writes, "I am an African-American New Orleans native and I just want to say that your 'Moon Over New Orleans' column was excellent! You reminded me of why I never loved that place." Nick Spicher says that he "very much enjoyed" looking back at the campaigns, but he wanted more elaboration about the way elections are run, whereby all candidates run on the same ballot and the top two finishers, regardless of party, advance to a runoff if no one receives a majority of the vote. Nick adds, "I love this system because it does not force the two major political parties to have an artificial parity, and it guarantees that the winner actually gets a real majority of votes. And one more feature that makes a whole lot of sense: Elections are always on Saturdays."

Reminder: "Political Junkie" (including Ken!) is featured every Wednesday on NPR's Talk of the Nation, a call-in program, at 2:40 p.m. Eastern. Also, check out Thursday's News and Notes program on NPR, where I host the "Political Corner" segment. My guests are political consultant Donna Brazile, who ran Al Gore's 2000 campaign, and the Rev. Joe Watkins, who served on the White House staff under the first President Bush.

More About Ken: And in the event your radio is broken, or the dog ate it, you can still have your fill of Ken Rudin this Friday and most of next week, when I will be the official NPR blogger(check out "Mixed Signals" at npr.org). If you missed last Friday's blog edition, which I also hosted, then you missed some really fascinating things that caused the folks at NPR to change the lock on my door. Hopefully, there is no way to find it in the blog archives.

This Day in Campaign History: The Ohio primary offers a hint of promising things to come for the Republican Party. Lt. Gov. Mike DeWine easily wins the GOP nomination for the Senate, and among the party hopefuls for Congress who wins his primary is state Sen. Bob Ney. In November, it's a big year for the GOP, as DeWine becomes the first Republican to win an Ohio Senate seat in 24 years, Ney captures a Democratic House seat, and three other Democratic House incumbents lose (May 3, 1994).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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