In some political campaigns the caliber of both candidates challenging each other for elected office leaves something to be desired. That is not the case in the U.S. Senate race in Ohio. Both U.S. Sen. George Voinovich and his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Eric Fingerhut, are articulate, experienced, polished, and passionate public servants.
Which makes endorsing George Voinovich for a second term in the U.S. Senate less of a slam-dunk decision than in the past. Yet we truly believe the 68-year-old lawmaker, who has served honorably and effectively in numerous public offices from mayor of Cleveland, to county auditor to commissioner to lieutenant governor and governor, is the better choice to represent Ohio's interests in the Senate.
Mr. Voinovich has carefully cultivated a reputation as a fiscal conservative, which is a good thing in an era of record deficits, extravagant tax cuts, runaway spending, and budgets nowhere close to being balanced. He is also a moderate Republican occasionally swimming against the tide of his party's leadership as a maverick unafraid to take an independent stand if principles demand.
In a commendable departure from one of the President's signature issues, Mr. Voinovich opposed the No Child Left Behind federal education act, arguing that the government was overreaching into local and state affairs. It is one of the few areas in which he and his rival, Mr. Fingerhut, have little disagreement.
Even as many Republicans, including the President, are pandering to their core constituency with proposals to amend both state and federal constitutions banning gay marriage, Mr. Voinovich announced his opposition to a statewide issue in Ohio doing the same. He rightly concluded the vagueness of State Issue 1 would create more legal problems than it would solve.
But even though the incumbent senator doesn't always embrace the party line, he tries, by his own admission, to be a team player most of the time. His positions reflect his party's on a host of issues from tax cuts totaling $1.7 trillion over 10 years to new Medicare prescription drug benefits and authorizing war with Iraq.
On the campaign trail Mr. Fingerhut has attacked the senator's voting record, citing the failure of touted tax cuts to create new jobs, the failure of the Medicare bill to allow negotiations for lower prescription prices, and the failure in Iraq that is not worth the cost in dollars and lives.
Mr. Fingerhut, who served a term in the U.S. Congress and has an impressive grasp of the issues, walked over 300 miles across the state talking to voters about jobs and health care. He believes Ohio wants an alternative to Mr. Voinovich.
But the polls don't reflect that belief, with the latest showing the incumbent beating the Democrat by almost two to one. The senator is well-funded and well-known in the state. Mr. Fingerhut is neither.
Still, the 45-year-old legislator, who lives in Shaker Heights, has raised his public profile considerably by running hard in the Senate campaign, which could work to his advantage if a future statewide campaign beckons.
But this election belongs to Sen. George Voinovich. He earned it the old-fashioned way, through steady leadership and public service.
Ohioans should send him back to Washington for another six years.