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Sunday, January 18, 2004

It's prime time to get on the campaign bandwagon


Candidates: Area's party faithful discuss their choices

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination may be all but over by the time Ohio holds its primary March 3 - not to mention Kentucky May 18 - but that hasn't kept area party activists from choosing their favorites and working for their campaigns.

The winnowing process begins Monday with the Iowa caucuses for the nine contenders - actually eight, because Carol Moseley Braun dropped out Thursday.

But before the also-rans fade off into the sunset of American political trivia, we ought to take a look at who's supporting whom in the Cincinnati area - and why.

These modest campaign efforts have been operating under the radar so far, not only because our area's primaries happen "late" in the game in the modern, front-loaded primary system, but because Southwestern Ohio and Northern Kentucky are not traditional Democratic strongholds.

Not surprisingly, national front-runner Howard Dean is the best organized locally.

"Since early last summer, the Dean campaign has put together a very, very strong grass-roots organization here," said Tim Burke, Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman. "It's impressive."

The campaign held a public kick-off rally Thursday in Paddock Hills, but local organizers have been working on the former Vermont governor's behalf for nearly a year, making good use of the Internet - a hallmark of Dean's campaign nationally.

Bill Bridges, chair of Dean's Cincinnati steering committee, said he began looking for a candidate to support the day after the November 2002 midterm election, and settled on Dean last May.

"I'm a huge fan of Harry Truman," said Bridges, a business analyst from Delhi Township. "I like the way he governed, I like his directness and honesty. Those are qualities I saw in Dean. I finally found a candidate I can believe in."

Bridges supports Dean because he wants a change in the party's direction. "The piece that the eight years of Bill Clinton missed was that the liberal wing of the party - who are tax-paying Americans, too - was ignored," he said.

"And I never understood why Democrats in Congress went with Bush on tax cuts ... and gave Bush a blanket signature to start the war."

Those comments reflect what the media has termed Dean's appeal to the "angry" left, a notion Bridges disputes.

"I get angry when somebody hits my car. This is not anger. This is outrage that Bush has treated the United States like this, the Constitution like this. It is simply unacceptable."

The tone is far different at the other campaign with a significant presence in our area: Former Gen. Wesley Clark, who has emerged as a moderate alternative to Dean and "appears to be picking up steam" in the Cincinnati area, Burke said.

Coordinated by Covington lawyer Ron Cropper, it also is the product of Web-based grass-roots organizing.

Attorney Ronald C. Harris, a former Colerain Township trustee and judicial candidate active in Democratic politics since the late 1950s, got involved in the "draft Clark" movement through Internet "meet-ups."

Harris was attracted to Clark's military background and moderate stances. "I've long been a heavy fan of accountability in politics and Clark preaches that," Harris said. "I don't think there's another Democratic candidate who has a chance of winning election 2004 against George Bush except him. He can win and I like what he's said."

Harris supports Clark because he sees a Dean nomination as a recipe for defeat. "I think the Democratic Party is getting beat by its own left wing," Harris said.

"The Clinton leadership group put the party in the middle. It worked for him. It's been said that Gen. Clark is too liberal for the military establishment, too conservative for the left wing. I like that."

Recently, a third campaign has emerged. Rep. Dick Gephardt, Burke said, "seems to be starting to energizing labor."

A traditional union ally, Gephardt has been endorsed by about two dozen major unions nationwide. The congressman from Missouri appeared at a private fund-raiser in Cincinnati recently hosted by Richard D. Lawrence, a prominent downtown attorney who's become a strong supporter.

"I think he's a wonderful man, a very fine, experienced congressman and a worthy candidate," Lawrence said. He became involved in the campaign after he asked Gephardt to speak at a trial lawyers' convention in Northern Kentucky last May.

"I didn't have to go through a bunch of staff to talk to him. He's very engaging and personable, very unassuming," Lawrence said. "You've never heard of any scandals around him.

"He's a good, moral man, and his conduct has always been something everybody can be proud of."

In terms of government policy, "I think he connects the dots. For instance, on NAFTA. He's not against free trade, but he understands it's important to improve working conditions throughout the world. That way, people in other countries will be in a better position to buy American products in the long run." Lawrence also admires Gephardt's defense of the civil justice system and his health care proposal.

What about Joe Lieberman, Dennis Kucinich and the other primary players? "The other candidates' campaigns so far have been pretty invisible locally," Burke said. But that doesn't mean they lack passionate supporters.

Here's a look at some of them:

John Edwards

The North Carolina senator has a loyal supporter in Tom Ratterman, a Bellevue City Council member.

"John Edwards is the Democrats' best chance to win the White House," Ratterman said. "I like his ideas. I like the fact he's not been in politics his entire life. He's a regular kind of guy."

Other candidates, Ratterman said, are "out of touch...they've just been in that little good ol' boys group too long," and Dean "is just way too far out in left field for me.... Edwards is really head and shoulders ahead of the others."

Dennis Kucinich

Dan Sullivan, an alcohol and drug counselor from East Hyde Park, is working on the Kucinich campaign, organizing and passing out leaflets at various events.

He believes the Ohio congressman has hit all the right themes. "I've been anti-war since I was 6 years old," Sullivan said. "It's wasteful and it serves no purpose, especially when we're not being threatened.

"I feel like Dennis is more honest. I like his approach on just about anything."

Sullivan also cites Kucinich's opposition to NAFTA and his plan to establish a Department of Peace. "I'd probably not be a Democrat right now if it weren't for Kucinich," he said.

Joe Lieberman

Frank Szollosi, a Toledo City Council member, is directing the Connecticut senator's campaign activities in Ohio.

"I lean more toward centrist candidates. That's one reason why I haven't jumped on the Dean bandwagon," Szollosi said. "Besides, I believe Joe was the duly elected vice president in 2000."

Szollosi, who worked on the Gore-Lieberman campaign, says he's already trying to focus on the general election campaign "to support whichever candidate emerges."

"Iowa and New Hampshire always play a winnowing role," Szollosi said. The tightening polls in both state states this week "bode very ill for Dean campaign. But if Dean wins them both, it will be pretty difficult for anybody but Clark to have a shot at derailing him."

Rev. Al Sharpton

When the New York minister and National Action Network director came to Cincinnati last month to kick off his Ohio campaign, he named Cincinnati's Rev. Peter Matthews, pastor of St. Stephen A.M.E. Church in Evanston, as his state finance chairman.

Matthews' goal is to register at least 30,000 voters as well as raise funds for Sharpton's campaign, and he wants to open Sharpton headquarters in several major Ohio cities. "I stand behind his political consciousness and awareness of those who have been kept out of the process," Matthews said. "I support his candidacy despite any foregone conclusion of winning or losing the Democratic nomination."

That "foregone conclusion," however, may not be so foregone any more. Despite Howard Dean's months-long dominance, the latest polls show his rivals surging in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

In fact, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has opened up a five-point lead in Iowa, according to Friday's Reuters/MSNBC/Zogby poll, with Dean, Gephardt and Edwards closely bunched behind him. In New Hampshire, which holds its primary Jan. 27, Clark has moved to within 5 points of Dean, with Kerry in third place, according to a new American Research Group poll.

What does that mean for Ohio's primary, especially with seven more states voting on Feb. 3? "At this point, I don't think most campaigns are looking too far past Iowa or New Hampshire," Szollosi said. "If candidates don't perform well, they will be out by March. I don't think anybody should have any illusions about that."

But even if a clear winner emerges and Ohio's primary becomes irrelevant, Buckeye state Democrats shouldn't feel left out - not with a presidential election campaign many are predicting will be as close as the 2000 race.

"If Bush doesn't win Ohio, he can't be re-elected president," Szollosi said, "and Ohio will be more competitive this time. Iowa and New Hampshire have their day in the sun here, and they have disproportionate influence on the nominee. But I would challenge any other state to say it has as much of a 'swing' influence on the general election as Ohio."

Primary colors: Who's voting when

Monday: Iowa (caucus)

Jan. 27: New Hampshire

Feb. 3: Arizona, Delaware, Missouri, New Mexico (caucus), North Dakota (caucus), Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia (GOP caucus)

Feb. 7: Michigan, Washington (caucus)

Feb. 8: Maine (caucus)

Feb. 10: Tennessee, Virginia

Feb. 14: District of Columbia (caucus), Nevada (caucus)

Feb. 17: Wisconsin

Feb. 24: Hawaii (caucus), Idaho (caucus), Utah

March 2: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota (caucus), New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont

March 8: Am. Samoa (caucus)

March 9: Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas

March 13: Kansas (caucus)

March 16: Illinois

March 20: Alaska (caucus), Guam (caucus), Wyoming (caucus)

April 13: Colorado (caucus)

April 17: Virgin Islands (caucus)

April 27: Pennsylvania

May 4: Indiana, North Carolina

May 11: Nebraska, West Virginia

May 18: Arkansas, Kentucky, Oregon

June 1: Alabama, South Dakota

June 6: Puerto Rico (caucus)P 8 - Montana, New Jersey

July 26-29: Democratic National Convention, Boston

Aug. 30-Sept. 2: Republican National Convention, New York

Nov. 2 - Election Day

Showdown in the Hawkeye State

Iowa will hold the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses Monday. It is the first step in the presidential nomination process for the Democratic and Republican parties.

How it works:

A caucus is a party meeting at the precinct level in which citizens share views and opinions about the candidates and pick delegates to their county conventions. The lowest level of party politics, they are held in each of the state's 1,993 precincts.

At a later date, delegates go to the county convention, where the field of candidates is winnowed again and more delegates picked to attend the district convention. The process is repeated there and at the state convention, where delegates are named to the national convention. Iowa Republicans will send 32 delegates to their national convention, while Democrats will send 45 pledged delegates.

History:

Caucuses in Iowa date to 1846, the year of statehood. A commission in 1968 developed the present system for Democrats, recommending proportionate representation and affirmative action. Iowa Democrats decided to put at least a month between dates for the national, state, district, county and precinct conventions. That led to scheduling Iowa's caucuses in January.

Participation:

Turnout is a fraction of registered party members and eligible voters. In 2000, 61,000 Democrats, about 10.8 percent, took part, compared to 87,600 Republicans, about 16.5 percent.

Registered voters:

Republican: 580,677; Democrat: 526,426; Green: 138; No Party: 684,090.

Where:

Caucuses are held in a variety of locations, but predominantly in public buildings such as schools, libraries and government buildings. Caucuses start at 7:30 p.m. EST.

-Associated Press

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Ray Cooklis is the Enquirer's assistant editorial page editor. Contact him at rcooklis@enquirer.com or call (513) 768-8525.




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