By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Thirty days from today Republican voters will dispel the notion that primary elections are merely warm-ups for the November vote.
March 2 is the election for the Republicans running in most of the contested races in Hamilton, Butler, Warren and Clermont counties.
The voters who pick up Republican ballots next month will decide who goes on to the general election, where the winner may face token Democratic competition or none at all.
Republicans are going toe-to-toe - or even toe-to-toe-to-toe-to-toe-to-toe - in a dozen contests for county commissioner, state representative, state senate, judge and prosecutor.
There are a few Democratic primaries, too, but those don't mean as much in a region where more than two-thirds of voters voted Republican in the last presidential election.
Republican voters say they like having choices.
"It's really a healthy thing," Sycamore Township resident Larry Keller said. "It's nice to see all the new talent."
With President Bush a shoo-in to be renominated in the Republican presidential primary, the attention will be on races closer to home.
"Local politics has as profound an impact on people's lives as federal politics, it's just that people don't pay as much attention to it until there's a landfill going in their backyard," said Gene Beaupre, a political science teacher at Xavier University.
If the 2000 presidential primary is any indication, only about a third of registered voters will turn out March 2. Today is the last day for residents to register to vote in the primary.
Republicans have occasionally competed for seats - particularly vacant ones - but not in the number that they are this year.
"I think it's an accident," said Al Tuchfarber, a political strategist who's working for two Hamilton County commissioner candidates. "I don't think there's anything in the water. I don't think there are any major social or political shifts under way."
Indeed, the reasons for the contests vary
The race for state Senate in the 14th District, which includes Clermont and Brown counties, comes about because of term limits. Senate President Doug White, an Adams County Republican, has served the maximum time. The two Republicans competing to replace him, state Reps. Tom Niehaus and Jeannette Schmidt, are both term-limited out of their state House seats.
In Warren County's primaries, an increasingly powerful conservative faction is challenging mainstream Republicans in the races for prosecutor and commissioner and in dozens of races for the county GOP's Central Committee.
In Hamilton County, Cincinnati Councilman Pat DeWine decided to run for commissioner after being marginalized by Democratic Mayor Charlie Luken after the fall city election. DeWine is taking the path less traveled by running against incumbent Republican John Dowlin, but it's a path supported by conservatives who feel Dowlin has become too soft on taxes and spending.
Hamilton County Democratic Co-Chairman Tim Burke said Democrats are satisfied to be weighing in on the party's presidential nominee, which he doesn't think will be decided before Ohio's primary.
"In a race for county commissioner, whomever wins is not likely to send 500 Americans to their death searching for weapons of mass destruction that don't exist," he said.
Democrat Carolyn Tepe of Deerfield Township said many fellow Democrats in Warren County vote Republican in primaries. The fast-growing county is the most strongly Republican one in the area, with 81.3 percent of voters picking up GOP ballots in the 2000 primary.
Tepe was part of that majority, requesting a Republican ballot so she could vote in the three-way GOP primary for an open state House seat. Tom Raga won the race and then coasted to an easy win against Republican Rick Inskeep in November.
Ohio has an open primary system, which means a voter has only to identify himself as a Republican to pick up a Republican ballot.
Voters can pick Republican, Democrat or issues-only ballots in a primary election.
The race is on
Primary candidates focus on reaching the most likely Republican voters.
"You need to go after your base in the primary," said Mike McNamara, a Butler County GOP Central Committee member and DeWine's campaign manager. "It doesn't make sense to count on something you've never had before."
The Republican primary for Hamilton County Commission is one contest that won't lead to a free pass in November. The winner will face incumbent Todd Portune, the first Democrat to be elected commissioner since 1964.
Today is the last day Ohioans can register to vote in the March 2 primary. You must be a U.S. citizen, turn 18 years old by Nov. 2, and live in Ohio for at least 30 days before the election.
Registration locations in Hamilton County include the county Board of Elections, downtown at 824 Broadway, and all branches of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. For more information or locations, visit www.hamilton-co.org/boe/ or call 632-7000.
For information on registering elsewhere:
Butler: Visit www.butlercountyohio.org/elections/ or call 887-3700.
Clermont: Visit www.clermontelections.org/ or call 732-7275.
Warren: Visit www.co.warren.oh.us/bdelec/ or call 695-1358.
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