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Published: Saturday, 10/21/2000

Has Gore missed his chance to carry Ohio?

CLEVELAND - If Vice President Gore fails to carry Ohio on Nov. 7, there will be dozens, if not hundreds, of reasons.

But perhaps the most intriguing one will be the opportunity that the Ohio Democratic Party may have missed in the U.S. Senate race.

When the Democrats failed to recruit a Democratic congressman or another big name to run against Republican U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, three heads popped up: Richard Cordray, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 1998; Ted Celeste, brother of former Governor Celeste, and the Rev. Marvin McMickle, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland.

David Leland, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, had a choice. The party could endorse one of the three, or let them compete against each other in the March 7 primary. Mr. Leland decided to let them compete. Mr. Celeste won, with Dr. McMickle placing second and Mr. Cordray finishing third. Predictable, given Mr. Celeste's name recognition.

But let's consider what could have happened if Mr. Leland had endorsed Dr. McMickle, who ran in the 1998 Democratic primary to succeed U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes. Stephanie Tubbs Jones won, but it was Dr. McMickle who received the Plain Dealer's endorsement.

As the only African-American candidate this year for the U.S. Senate, Mr. McMickle would have been national news. He has two doctoral degrees - in ministry from Princeton Theological Seminary and in American Studies from Case Reserve Western University.

Name a prominent African-American Democrat in the nation, and he or she would have been in Ohio, lighting a fire under Democrats at a rate this state hasn't seen since Howard Metzenbaum served in the U.S. Senate.

Dr. McMickle likely would not have defeated Mr. DeWine, but then again no political observers are predicting that Mr. Celeste will beat him either.

But the biggest beneficiary of a McMickle for U.S. Senate campaign would have been Al Gore, especially as he uses the final two weeks of the race to appeal to moderate and independent voters.

Dr. McMickle would have turned out African-American voters in urban areas, especially Cleveland and Toledo, who also would have voted for Mr. Gore.

Without an African-American on the Democratic ticket Nov. 7, will those voters show up? Dr. McMickle is afraid they will not - and this is from a man who will vote for Mr. Gore and is urging others in the Cleveland area to do so.

“I hear nothing about this race locally. Al Gore has made no attempt to make himself visible in the black community. He goes other places. It is very strange to me. Joe Lieberman came to Warrensville Heights, which is a good thing. But he is not running for president and Al Gore is.

“You can take this constituency for granted only so long before they stay home or they change their mind,” he said.

Erin Callahan, spokesman for the Democratic coordinated campaign backing Mr. Gore, said the vice president has campaigned in African-American communities across the country. She said he has not been to Cleveland since Sept. 4, when he released his economic platform at Cleveland State University.

“He wants to be able to campaign in African-American communities in Cleveland,” she said.

Ron Colvin, president of the Lake County branch of the NAACP, said it doesn't matter how many trips Mr. Gore makes to African-American areas of Cleveland. “The total focus should be on getting your constituency out to vote,” he said.

Dr. McMickle said he has received one call from the Gore campaign, an invitation to take part in a national conference call.

“I presume he planned to talk to us, with about 50 other folk on the line and I was not interested in that. I don't need to listen to him again. He has not called me, and I think that's strange given that I received 200,000 votes in the U.S. Senate race,” he said.

Nonetheless, Dr. McMickle is trying his best to get out the vote for Mr. Gore.

“It's the Supreme Court, stupid,” said Dr. McMickle, tweaking the slogan the Clinton campaign used in 1992.

“Far and way above any consideration is the power this president will have to make appointments or at least recommendations to the Supreme Court and multiple other federal courts. I have a better feeling about the people Al Gore will turn to than George W. Bush.

“And George W. Bush is a walking advertisement for the death penalty. I am not a supporter of it. But Bush takes such delight in it. In the second debate, he talked about how those guys will be put to death and he did it with a smile. I'm troubled by that,” Dr. McMickle said.

Mr. Celeste, in the Ohio Poll released Sept. 22, trailed Mr. DeWine by 32 percentage points, and a campaign finance report filed last week showed Mr. Celeste with $41,158 in campaign dollars on hand - compared with $3.1 million for Mr. DeWine.

“I think unless something happens in the next two weeks, Gore may well lose Ohio. All of this is very strange to me,” Dr. McMickle said.

Jim Drew is chief of The Blade's Columbus bureau.


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