By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau
BOSTON - Sure, all of Ohio's delegates are for John Kerry in 2004. But here's the real question: Who are they for in 2005? Or 2006?
With the presidential nominee not in dispute, the Ohio Democrats gathered here are jockeying instead for every conceivable local and state office - mayor, governor, statehouse leadership, secretary of state.
"It keeps us from having to make a lot of long-distance calls," said Steve Reece, de facto campaign manager for his daughter, Cincinnati Vice Mayor Alicia Reece. "Everyone is in one room."
Alicia Reece isn't sure whether she'll run for mayor, state senator, or secretary of state. But she's making the rounds - talking to county chairs, potential donors outside Ohio and influential black politicians.
The delegation already has two would-be future mayors of Cincinnati: current Mayor Charlie Luken and state Sen. Mark Mallory.
Mallory hosted a reception for delegates Monday afternoon, though he insisted it predated his announcement to run for mayor.
"It's a good thing to do," he said.
Luken is co-hosting a party with Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman put on by the state's Democratic mayors.
The jockeying was openly on display at the delegation's first breakfast, paid for by a union and Rep. Ted Strickland, a Democrat from eastern Ohio. He handed out "Ted Strickland for Ohio" tote bags. As host of the breakfast, which cost an estimated $10,000 to $15,000, he gave a speech, which he used to denounced the "Bush/Taft policies" that he said have hurt Ohio.
"We will take back our state from the self-serving, incompetent, and all-too-often corrupt Republicans in Columbus," he said.
Strickland's sponsorship of the breakfast wasn't lost on delegates.
"I think it shows he cares about the Democratic Party," said delegate Steven Okey, 42, a lawyer from Alliance. "I appreciate him buying the breakfast."
Meanwhile, another potential governor of Ohio, Cincinnati's Jerry Springer, made the rounds of tables like a bride at a wedding reception. He joshed and introduced himself. Springer isn't hosting an event, but he did pay for lapel pins for all the delegates. That cost "a couple thousand dollars," he said.
Republican Rep. Rob Portman suggested the intra-party positioning could help Republicans, who he said are focused on 2004. But if anything, the Republican convention in New York next month will see even more competition. Auditor Betty Montgomery, Attorney General Jim Petro and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell - three likely GOP candidates for governor - are all hosting their own breakfasts.
"Whoever runs for governor needs the support of groups and the party and people all over Ohio," said Coleman, another possible governor-in-waiting. "This convention is not about Jerry Springer. It's not about Mike Coleman. This convention is about John Edwards and John Kerry and the future of this country as it relates to the highest office in the land."
Coleman, however, is hosting a hospitality suite every day from 2 to 4 p.m. in the delegation hotel.
Party chairman Denny White said he's delighted that so many Democrats are so interested in running. He said it suggests the GOP's 10-year hold on every state office might soon be coming to an end.
"Our party hasn't had this many candidates this excited so early in a couple decades," he said.
Other potential statewide candidates hosting the Ohio breakfasts this week include Senate Minority Leader Greg DiDonato of Dennison, his House counterpart, Chris Redfern, Parma Mayor Dean DePiero and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason.
And some of the candidates were looking beyond 2006. Benjamin van der Horst of Blue Ash was at the delegation breakfast schmoozing and meeting politicians.
His political ambition? "Maybe Congress," he said.
But he'll have to wait another seven years. The Seven Hills Upper School student, attending the convention as part of the Junior Statesman program, is only 17.
Enquirer staff writer Gregory Korte contributed.
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