Sunday, October 31, 2004
Remember my name!
To vote for prosecutor, write in DETERS or RUCKER
By Dan Horn
Enquirer staff writer
Joe Deters' campaign Web site features a high-tech video presentation that shows voters how to cast a write-in ballot in the Hamilton County prosecutor's race.
"It's as easy as 1, 2, 3," the site explains.
Fanon Rucker, his opponent, carries a sample ballot in his pocket so he can point to the line where voters should write his name.
"Don't forget," he says at campaign stops, "to write in Rucker."
With Election Day looming, the candidates for county prosecutor are hustling to come up with ways to win over voters in one of the more unusual races in Hamilton County history.
Their campaigns face challenges that others don't because Rucker and Deters are in a race that features just write-in candidates, a first for the county.
The all-write-in format requires voters to write their candidate's name on the ballot - a last name will do - rather than simply punch a hole next to a printed name.
That means Deters and Rucker must not only convince people to vote for them, but they also must show them how to vote for them.
"Write-in campaigns are really complicated," said John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. "You have to ask voters not just to get out and vote, but also to write in a name. It makes it less predictable."
The task is complicated by the late start both candidates got in the campaign.
Incumbent Prosecutor Mike Allen dropped out of the race six weeks ago in the fallout of a sex scandal, leaving Rucker and Deters little time to organize campaigns, raise money and settle on a strategy.
Experts say name recognition is especially important in a write-in race, since voters have to remember the name well enough to write it down. That seems to favor Deters, the state treasurer and a Republican heavyweight.
"Joe Deters is obviously a well-known quantity," said Herb Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University.
But Rucker, a Democrat, believes a big name means less this year because no one is listed on the ballot, making it impossible for voters to simply punch the card when they see a familiar name.
He predicted that the candidate who best mobilizes his core supporters would win. And in a presidential election year, Rucker said, he's confident more Democrats than usual will be going to the polls.
"Name recognition only matters when there's a name on the ballot," Rucker said. "(Deters) and I will be able to write books about this when it's over. There is no instruction manual.
"It's all new."
Deters said he's taking nothing for granted. He's been running campaigns for himself and others for 20 years, and he readily admits he's never been a part of anything like this.
He agreed the write-in format makes educating voters a top priority and said he's spent about one-third of the $70,000 he's raised since September on explaining the write-in process.
"This is a race that will be won by the candidate who has his volunteers out there educating voters about the write-in process," Deters said. "That is the nature of this campaign."
His Web site features a point-and-click guide to casting a write-in ballot, and every piece of his campaign literature includes the words "write in."
Rucker has taken a similar approach and has made "write in Rucker" his battle cry at campaign events, urging crowds to repeat the slogan as he rattles off each of his campaign promises. His yard signs show his name next to a pencil and the words "write in."
"It's not easy to run a write-in campaign," Asher said. "Write-in campaigns place a real burden on voters."
With that in mind, the candidates have tried to craft campaign messages that fit the prosecutor's race as well as the unusual nature of the write-in format.
So far, both candidates have attempted to define themselves, explain the write-in process and attack each other in as clear and concise a way as possible.
Rucker struck first with a hard-hitting ad that blasted Deters over a campaign finance scandal involving his treasurer's office. Deters was not charged, but two top associates pleaded guilty to misdemeanors.
Deters shot back last week with an attack on Rucker's lack of experience as a prosecutor in felony cases.
Both candidates sandwiched those attacks around glowing comments about their own abilities and ended the ads with images of their names scrawled across sample write-in ballots.
The candidates both say there is a risk they could inadvertently help their opponent simply by mentioning his name.
After all, they say, in a write-in race the most important thing is for voters to remember your name when they step into a voting booth.