Ohio lashes out at Republicans: Minimum wage measure gives boost to turnout

CLEVELAND — Voters in Ohio, the bellwether state that gave George W. Bush the presidency by a slim margin, are poised to deliver a major rebuke to the Republican Party in the Nov. 7 elections.

Barring major vote fraud or an October surprise engineered by the Bush administration, all polls show Democrats taking key state and federal seats long held by the GOP. The surge of voters to the Democrats, fueled by anger and frustration over the war in Iraq, Republican corruption scandals and continual economic decline for working families, seems to grow every day, and the only question is how far it will go by Election Day.

Democrat Ted Strickland seems certain to win the race for governor, an office Republicans have held for 16 years, and his slate could sweep most, if not all, of the remaining four state government offices on the ballot (attorney general, state auditor, state treasurer and secretary of state). Strickland is at least 20 points ahead of Blackwell in the polls.

Rep. Sherrod Brown has pulled significantly ahead in the race for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Mike DeWine. Brown, who has a 97 percent lifetime pro-labor voting record, has made Ohio’s economic crisis and DeWine’s slavish pro-Bush voting record the main campaign issues.

Democrats are not expected to lose any congressional seats and could gain as many as five traditionally held by Republicans. (See sidebar on page 17.)

Democrats are also expected to make gains in the state Legislature, where Republicans hold majorities in both houses.

Giving an additional boost to the Democrats is a referendum, placed on the ballot by organized labor, to raise the state minimum wage to $6.85 with annual cost of living increases. Democrats support this measure which polls show passing by a three to one majority. Almost without exception, Republican candidates oppose it.

The AFL-CIO reported a steadily mounting flood of volunteers making phone calls and distributing literature to union members throughout the state. According to Kyle McDermott, Ohio AFL-CIO director of field mobilization, “The week of Oct. 16-21 yielded 1,347 union volunteers!” During that period phone canvassers made 163,610 calls, he said. Canvassers report that those supporting the Democratic candidates are angry and high motivated to vote.

With organized labor and its allies leading the charge against them, the Republicans are moving to protect fewer seats while their candidates resort to ever more desperate tactics.

In an effort to counter reports in The New York Times that the Republican National Committee was diverting funds from DeWine’s campaign to shore up more competitive Senate races, the RNC purchased television ads making bogus claims that Brown’s 1992 congressional campaign committee failed to pay unemployment taxes for 13 years. The claims were refuted by the state of Ohio, and when the RNC failed to provide documentation, many TV stations pulled the ads.

“All the ‘Hail Marys’ and mudslinging thrown by Mike DeWine and the Republican national party is not going to change Ohio voters’ minds,” said Joanna Kuebler, communications director for Brown, who holds an 8-10 percentage point lead in the polls.

With his prospects rapidly fading, Blackwell has turned to even more desperate methods. Blackwell’s aides were caught spreading false rumors that Strickland is gay and in their fourth debate Blackwell claimed Strickland knowingly employed a sex offender in a previous campaign and supported the platform of a group advocating pedophilia.

Although his hometown newspaper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, endorsed him, the paper wrote, “Blackwell decided to counter a 20-point deficit in the polls with an unconscionable mudslide of innuendo against Strickland, leaving us with an urge to go shower.”

Blackwell even had Monty Lobb, the assistant secretary of state, back a pathetic effort to challenge Strickland’s residency in Columbiana County and therefore his right to vote. Strickland immediately defeated this effort, which could still end up in court, by casting an absentee ballot.

Blackwell’s ties to extremists, his mudslinging, the abuse of his office to suppress voter turnout in both 2004 and the current election and his connection to the corrupt state administration of outgoing Gov. Bob Taft, have alienated independents and moderate Republicans alike. Fearing Blackwell could drag their entire ticket down to defeat, the state Republican Party has all but abandoned his floundering campaign and admitted they are focusing on the contests for auditor and secretary of state, who will sit on the five-member Apportionment Board to redraw congressional districts after the 2010 census.

Labor and community groups have voiced concern that Blackwell could suppress votes of those supporting Democrats through use of the state’s new law requiring voters to present valid identification at the polls. Similar laws have been struck down in other states as vague, confusing and discriminatory. The Ohio measure is being challenged in federal court by the Service Employees International Union and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

County election boards have been flooded with absentee ballots sent in by voters seeking to avoid confusion and delays at the polls. Many board officials have expressed concern that they do not have enough equipment to count these ballots on Election Day.

Ohio GOP House seats in trouble

• Six-term incumbent Steve Chabot is attempting to stave off a strong challenge by City Councilman John Cranley by whipping up anti-immigrant hysteria. Cranley supports finding an avenue for undocumented workers to become citizens. The district in Cincinnati was carried by Bush in 2004 by only 3,000 votes.

• Freshman Congresswoman Jean Schmidt, who gained notoriety when she called Rep. John Murtha, a highly decorated ex-Marine, a “coward” on the House floor for his opposition to the Iraq war, is tied in polls with Dr. Victoria Wulsin. Murtha recently campaigned in Cincinnati with Wulsin. The district is heavily Republican and runs through rural areas from Cincinnati east to Portsmouth.

• Three-term incumbent Patrick Tiberi is losing his lead in the polls under sharp attack as a “yes-man” for George Bush by former Congressman Bob Shamansky in the 12th CD, which is northeastern Columbus and two adjacent rural counties.

• Seven-term incumbent Deborah Pryce, with close ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley, is facing a powerful challenge from Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy, the daughter of a Cleveland pipefitter, who calls for national health care and attacks Pryce’s “rubber stamp” record of backing President Bush. This district is in most of Columbus and some suburban areas.

• Rep. Bob Ney’s seat in the 18th CD is made up of the state’s southeastern counties. Ney pled guilty to bribery charges in the Abramoff scandal and withdrew from the race. His designated successor, state Sen. Joy Padgett, is trailing Dover Law Director Zach Space.

— Rick Nagin