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Published: 11/9/2006

GOP stunned and staggered

THE Election Day repudiation of Gov. Bob Taft and the Ohio Republican Party, reflecting the depth of public anger over the betrayal of trust that Tom Noe and Coingate came to represent, was astounding in its scope.

The easy election of Ted Strickland as the next governor of Ohio, the ouster of Sen. Mike DeWine by Sherrod Brown, the defeat of Betty Montgomery by Marc Dann for attorney general - it was a string of Democratic successes that stands as a watershed moment in Ohio history for the state Democratic Party.

It also marks a "Waterloo" moment for the Republicans and certainly for Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett, who should quit immediately.

Mr. Strickland didn't just defeat Ken Blackwell for the right to succeed Governor Taft, he routed him.

Mr. Dann was the Democratic candidate believed to have the toughest challenge, but he overwhelmed Ms. Montgomery in the attorney general's race. She didn't even carry her home county of Wood.

Democrats also prevailed in two other statewide offices - Richard Cordray for treasurer and Jennifer Brunner for secretary of state - and Mr. Brown knocked off a veteran two-term senator.

Mr. Taft gets much of the blame for the disaster that befell his party. He should have resigned when he was convicted on ethics charges last year. Instead, he held on, dragging Republican candidates into the muck with him. He owes his party and his state an apology.

For his part, Mr. Blackwell turned his back on his own core constituency when he championed the TEL amendment to rein in taxes and expenditures and then abandoned it. Republicans who voted for Ted Strickland might have stayed with Mr. Blackwell had he stuck to his guns.

Understandably giddy after their triumph, the Democrats cannot afford to get too cocky. They get no blank check. If they fail to clean up what the Republicans are leaving behind, they could have just one term to enjoy their good fortune.

Their party's own slide from grace began in 1990 after alienating the public, a disenchantment intensified by departing Gov. Richard Celeste's 11th-hour pardon of several murderers on Ohio's Death Row.

That, too, was a betrayal of the public trust, and it reflected an anger that lingered well into the new century. It was a lesson the Democrats were slow to learn, and it is a lesson the Republicans must cope with now.

Tom Noe, awaiting his fate on state charges related to the Coingate scandal, and already headed for prison for violating federal campaign finance laws, defined this era in Ohio politics. The party he served so loyally believed the public's money was there to be taken. He raised big bucks for them; they gave him $50 million in taxpayer money to play with.

Now they need to go to confession, acknowledge their mistakes, and endure life in the political wilderness for a while. How long that will last will depend on the disgust of the electorate; the anger expressed Tuesday could endure for years.

The Democrats have ended the Republicans' era of misrule. Will they be up to the enormous challenge of restoring the public's faith in their state government?

We believe they have to be. Ohio needs to feel good about itself again, and it will be up to Governor-elect Strickland and the other Democratic winners on Tuesday to embrace the awesome responsibility they've been handed and make it happen.



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