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Published: Saturday, 2/18/2006

When 'Rs' act like 'Ds'

IF THE primary election slates filed by Thursday's deadline are any indication, 2006 should be a tumultuous year in Ohio politics, with more contested races than at any time in two decades, record amounts of money spent, and the inevitable blizzard of TV spots.

This explosion of participatory democracy is exciting from a public policy standpoint, but Ohioans accustomed to rather sedate campaigns since 1986 could find themselves in the midst of a political free-for-all they've never seen before.

Republicans "acting like Democrats" is the amusing explanation of state GOP chairman Robert Bennett, who wasn't able to head off a brutal primary fight for the nomination for governor between state Attorney General Jim Petro and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

The GOP's age-old political commandment, "Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican," has been violated so early and often that the internecine bloodletting already is soaking Statehouse carpets.

"I think it's going to be ugly. I think it's going to be nasty and a lot of Republicans will be ticked off about how people conduct themselves," said Mr. Bennett, who forecasts that as much as $50 million will be spent on Ohio campaigns by the end of the election year.

U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, the Democratic frontrunner for governor, has only nominal opposition, and he has served notice that he will wield the Coingate scandal involving Tom Noe, uncovered by The Blade last year, as a bludgeon against his eventual opponent. Mr. Strickland quipped the other day that he's eager to run this fall against either "Jim Noe Petro" or "Ken Noe Blackwell."

Primary contests are set in both parties for state auditor, treasurer, and attorney general. The only uncontested nominee for statewide office is Jennifer Brunner, running for Secretary of State on the Democratic side. In a sign of that office's importance to crucial reapportionment battles in the future, three Republicans are vying to oppose Ms. Brunner.

The U.S. Senate race, which looks like it will boil down to incumbent Republican Mike DeWine versus Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown, of Lorain, should be a sharpshooting battle on national issues like the war, domestic spying, the economy, and health care. If it isn't, the candidates will have done the voters a disservice.

All in all, 2006 could be the political equivalent of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Ohioans should prepare to hang on tightly and enjoy the experience.

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