Friday, August 18, 2000

Ohio, Kentucky offer tough races




By Howard Wilkinson and Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LOS ANGELES — Now that the glitter and glamour of a convention in the shadow of the Hollywood Hills is over, delegates from Ohio and Kentucky face a cold, hard reality.

        Democrats in both states have their work cut out if they are to party once again at an Al Gore inaugural in January.

        "It's not easy; it's a tough race, and it will be a close election,” said U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Lorain, who has run a statewide race in Ohio and lost.

        Ohio, with 21 electoral votes, is sure to be a key battleground state — one of a string of northern industrial states swung back and forth between Democrats and Republicans in the presidential elections of the 1980s and 1990s.

        It is why Al Gore and George W. Bush have been in the Buckeye State a doz en times each already and are likely to be back on an almost weekly basis between now and Nov. 7. Statewide polls give Mr. Bush a single-digit lead in the state.

        Kentucky, with eight electoral votes, is not quite the prize Ohio is but is considered a “swing” state that could help decide the elec tion.

        The trend in Kentucky has been toward the Republicans since the Democrats carried the presidential election four years ago. Seven of the state's eight seats in Congress are held by the GOP. The Republicans control the state Senate for the first time in history.

        What may have a much larger impact than either the Republican or Democratic conventions on undecided and uncertain voters are the presidential debates scheduled for the fall.

        “It will be the debates when these two go head to head that will make the difference,” said Jim Ruvolo of Toledo, the former Ohio Democratic Party chairman who is now a political consultant. “I think the swing voters are sitting out there, saying "show me.'”

        Charlie Combs, an Ohio delegate and union officer from Cincinnati, said he expects a tough contest to the end.

        “I hope this convention has gotten Gore off on the right foot,” Mr. Combs said. “It will be interesting to see the polls in a couple of days.”

        Mr. Brown said he does not see much significance in polls that show Mr. Bush ahead in Ohio.

        “Everybody remembers 1988 when George W.'s daddy ran and Michael Dukakis came out of the convention with a 17-point lead,” Mr. Brown said. "Michael Dukakis couldn't keep in a tough fight, and I don't think George W. Bush can either. And he doesn't have a 17-point lead.”

        Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton said Democratic activists need to remember that just because the Republicans appear strong today does not mean they will win in November.

        “People do have the ability to look beyond the rhetoric and make a rationalchoice,” Mr. Patton said. “So we need to get out and there and work and talk to people about our issues and our candidates. That's what is going to make a difference in Kentucky and across America.”

        In Kentucky, Democrats are all but conceding the 4th Congressional District, a 22-county area that includes Northern Kentucky and is one of the state's most GOP-dominated areas.

        “(Mr. Gore) may not carry the 4th, but what we have to do is cut (Mr. Bush's) margin as much as possible so the rest of the state can pick up the slack,” said Democratic delegate Jerry Stricker, a Covington city commissioner.

        “We also have to tell people about our issues, our taking the (budget) surplus and use it for debt reduction, targeted tax cuts, save Social Security, put prescription drugs under Medicare and not tax cuts that will effect very wealthy people,” he said. “That's the message I want to see and the one I'm taking home.”

       



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