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Published: 10/20/2012

As election nears, we're still waiting on details

BY MARILOU JOHANEK
BLADE COLUMNIST

Details are overrated this election year. That's not what I believe. It's what some candidates hope voters believe, so facts don't get in the way of decisions at the polls.

Look at how well the plan worked for Ohio Gov. John Kasich two years ago. Being stingy with specifics didn't thwart his narrow victory over incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland.

The Artful Dodger promised to reveal his positions and policy intentions when he was good and ready, and running the state. In 2010, the Republican rode a wave of recession angst and voter impatience into office.

He pulled it off as a bumper-sticker candidate vowing better days ahead. He'd fix what was broken, furnish tax cuts and jobs, fund education, and balance the budget.

Elaboration of all of the above would be provided after the election on a need-to-know basis. If keeping the public in the dark on particulars paid off for Governor Kasich, imagine what it can do for Josh Mandel.

It's safe to say most Ohioans know little about him other than that he's the guy running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. For voters with a deficit of details about the mystery name on yard signs, Mr. Mandel is Ohio Treasurer.

It's a job the 35-year-old said he was committed to keeping for at least four years. But a better offer came along: The consummate political climber, who went from suburban councilman to state lawmaker to treasurer in seven years, jumped at the chance to seize the U.S. Senate seat.

In 2010, the limping economy made Ohio's incumbent governor vulnerable. Two years later, it arguably makes incumbents from the President on down equally weak.

A restless electorate is tired of treading water on employment, income, and housing. Political conditions are again ripe to defeat those who seek re-election.

That gives enormous latitude to evasive challengers who are eager to upset the status quo without getting bogged down in details. Shrewd politicians take advantage of voter mood swings that hold them to less scrutiny.

Fed-up voters who demand a clean sweep of current officeholders aren't terribly choosy about replacements. Scheming newcomers plan their campaigns accordingly.

They duck public disclosure. With just more than two weeks remaining before the presidential election, Mitt Romney remains coy about releasing personal tax records customarily submitted by candidates.

Likewise, the political climate gives Mr. Mandel cover to be shy on specifics as he runs to represent Ohio in the Senate. Michael McTeague, associate dean of Ohio University's eastern campus, said Mr. Mandel can tell voters he'll show his cards once he's familiar with the Washington landscape and learns how the Senate operates.

He can be vague about his priorities on the pretext that he is a reasonable Republican who hesitates to trap himself in partisan gridlock. He's gambling that his less-is-more strategy is the safest bet to tip a close election in his favor.

Voters may prefer that their questions about the future come with "a better set of answers," Mr. McTeague said, "but it doesn't seem to matter one way or the other." The public has reached a point of campaign saturation in Ohio, with "so much disingenuous and contradictory information — not a fact-finding small bit of truth in many statements — that a lot of citizens are tuning out," he added.

"A mind-boggling amount of money is being spent to tilt the state back toward the Republicans" and to define Senator Brown as an out-of-touch liberal in a "bellwether state [that is] historically conservative to moderate," Mr. McTeague said. As Ohio polls tighten in both the presidential and U.S. Senate races, emotion, not substance, fuels momentum.

Ubiquitous political signs shout sentiments akin to "the end is near." Messages urge Ohioans to Save the Republic, Take America Back, Change Washington, and Don't Tread on Me.

Mixed in with the warnings to act before it's too late is the occasional renegade poster. It, too, has a bold one or two-word message: Gutters. Siding. Garage Sale.

Details are scant, limited to phone numbers. But as with political ads in 2012, too much information is overrated, right?

Marilou Johanek is a columnist for The Blade. Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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