Sunday, July 25, 2004

Swing-state status lifts Ohio delegates' prestige



By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - The Ohio delegation will be the cool clique at the Democratic National Convention in Boston this week.

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DELEGATIONS
The 2004 Democratic National Convention will bring together 4,353 delegates and 611 alternates. Here are facts about the delegations from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

Delegates:
• Ohio: 159
• Kentucky: 57
• Indiana: 81

Alternates:
• Ohio: 24
• Kentucky: 8
• Indiana: 12

Delegation chairs:
• Ohio: Denny White, Columbus, state Democratic chairman.
• Kentucky: Co-chairs Moretta Bosley, Owensboro, and Rep. Ben Chandler, Versailles.
• Indiana: State Kerry campaign chair Michael Harmless, Greencastle.

More key facts about the Ohio delegation:
• Youngest member: Sarah Bender of Medina, who turns 18 Oct. 21, less than two weeks before the general election.
• Oldest member: 81-year-old astronaut and former Sen. John Glenn.

• Mayors galore: Besides Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken, the delegation includes Toledo Mayor Jack Ford; Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman; Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell; and Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, a possible candidate for governor in 2006.

• Groups: The delegation includes 37 blacks, five Hispanics, five American Indians, two Asian-Americans, 11 gays and lesbians and 26 young Democrats under age 35. It also includes 17 military veterans.

Tristaters:
• The Ohio delegation includes 16 members from Greater Cincinnati, among them mayor rivals Charlie Luken and Mark Mallory; talk-show host Jerry Springer; and state Rep. Tyrone Yates.
• The Kentucky delegation includes five members from Greater Cincinnati, including Rep. Ken Lucas.
• The Indiana delegation includes one member from Greater Cincinnati, Laverne Hayes of Rising Sun.

2000 election results:
• Ohio: Bush 50 percent, Al Gore 46.5 percent, Ralph Nader 2.5 percent.
• Kentucky: Bush 56.5 percent, Al Gore 41.4 percent, Ralph Nader 1.5 percent.
• Indiana: Bush 56.7 percent, Al Gore 41 percent, Ralph Nader 0.8 percent.
Hailing from one of the critical states in the presidential campaign, the Ohio delegation gets to stay at the cool hotel. On the convention floor it gets a prime spot in the front row. And it's getting inundated with media requests - and party invites.

"Most of the Ohio delegates are getting invited to a lot of functions, for the purpose of getting our opinion and views," said first-time delegate Derry Hooks, 58, a private investigator from North Avondale.

More than almost any delegation, the Ohioans can expect to be wined, dined, flattered, psyched up, pepped up and probed. The delegation's decision not to cross possible police picket lines to attend a welcoming party tonight - forcing the cancellation of that party - already has made news in Boston.

"CNN's called me, MSNBC's called me," said Mayor Charlie Luken, a delegate. They and other media want to hear about "the mood of Ohio," he said.

The convention, which starts Monday and ends Thursday with John Kerry's acceptance speech, continues the campaign theme: Ohio is the ultimate swing state.

The two candidates, or their surrogates, visit the state at least once a week.

Kerry himself will stop in Columbus today for a rally en route to the convention.

Of the top five targets for presidential ads, four are in Ohio: Toledo, Columbus, Dayton and Cleveland, according to the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project. (Cincinnati ranked 24th. The average household in Cincinnati has seen 233 political ads over the last four months.)

Groups of Ohioans will be featured, via satellite, at the convention.

Monday, a group of steelworkers from Canton will be beamed in.

Thursday, about 15 working mothers from Columbus will share the spotlight.

"The Kerry campaign wanted to make an effort to highlight Ohioans," said Kerry Ohio spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri.

And Kerry's bus trip out of the convention will, of course, land in Ohio, hitting Zanesville, Springfield, and Toledo.

In some ways, the entire convention is aimed at Ohio, or at least at the heartland swing states.

"The overriding theme of the whole convention will be jobs and economy, which I think speaks to Ohio as clearly as any message might," Luken said.

"If Ohio is ground zero, it's ground zero because of the shape of its economy."

The convention will play up Kerry's wartime heroics and Edwards' humble roots in a mill town.

Wednesday and Thursday, the themes are about security, foreign and domestic.

Even Republicans say the goal of the convention is to win over centrist swing states like Ohio. Playing off a popular reality-TV series, campaign chairman Ken Mehlman said the convention would be an "extreme makeover" of Kerry's liberal record in the Senate.

"Transforming a Boston liberal into a Midwest conservative will make for fascinating TV, but I don't think Ohio voters will be fooled," said Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell Friday in a conference call arranged by the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Republicans are determined not to cede any Ohio ground during the convention. They've set up an "Ohio truth squad" of party members, including Southwest Ohio's four Republican congressmen, to rebut the Democrats.

Bush returns to Ohio on July 30 and 31 for a campaign swing through Cleveland, Canton and Steubenville.

The 183 delegates and alternates from Ohio can expect some perks as a result of Ohio's prized status.

The first prime-time speaker Monday is Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a Cleveland Democrat.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich speaks Wednesday night.

The delegation seats are in the front, slightly to the right, state Democratic Party spokesman Dan Trevas said.

"Can't beat that," he said.

One ritual of conventions is breakfast delegation meetings featuring guest speakers. Important states get better speakers; some small states with no role in the election will find themselves with no speakers.

Ohio can expect a good lineup - possibly John Edwards or Kerry himself.

"They'll fire us up by giving us the personal touch," Luken predicted. Delegate Jonathan McPike, 18, of Montgomery, will probably get his wish: to shake hands with Kerry or Edwards.

A political junkie from an early age, McPike envies the attention voters in early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire get from politicians, he said.

"We don't get to shake hands with them in diners. That's something we really lose out on," said McPike, a Sycamore High School graduate who plans a career in public service.

The delegation's hotel, the Sheraton Boston, not only will be shared by several other swing-state delegations - Michigan, West Virginia and New Mexico - but also will house Democratic National Committee bigwigs, including Terry McAuliffe.

An even bigger bonus: Many of the daytime sessions are in the hotel, so Ohio delegates can pad around in their socks.

"You can sleep in a couple extra minutes," said Trevas.

Indiana - considered solidly Republican - saw its delegation exiled across the river to Cambridge, at a hotel where it is the only delegation.

The Kentucky delegation fared better, though it also is considered Bush territory. It shares a hotel with the Florida delegation. But its place on the convention floor is in one of the far back corners - "right where the teams would exit the floor" during a Celtics game, Jacobs said.

Kentucky Democratic Party executive director Eddie Jacobs chalked up Kentucky's decent placement to the fact that the state has three top-tier House races: in northern Kentucky, Louisville and Lexington; and a relatively competitive Senate race.

"The fact that (Ohio) is a targeted state and they're on the radar screen - they'll probably get more attention," Jacobs acknowledged. "But I think there's a battleground in every state this year."

E-mail cweiser@gannett.com




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