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Published: Monday, 12/27/2004

2004 was a year of ups and downs for many a politician

A lot of names passed across this space over the past 12 months, some on their way out, some on their way up:

HOWARD DEAN: At this time last year, a loud-mouthed governor from a state with fewer people than live in northwest Ohio was poised to sweep to the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. He represented what he proclaimed "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" and had the rank and file all fired up and the status quo party leadership scared to death.

He drew fire from his competition in the run up to the Iowa caucuses last January, and by the time a record number of Iowa Democrats braved a stiff, icy wind to attend their local caucuses, it was a cold-blooded Yankee who won their affections.

JOHN KERRY: Largely because of the front-loaded primary and caucus schedule, the result of a persistent Democratic desire to quickly find an opponent - other than Mr. Dean - for Republican incumbent George W. Bush, Mr. Kerry swept to his party's nomination.

But a year ago right now, Mr. Kerry's campaign was languishing, lacking direction and inspiration. Its revival came from a most unexpected place - men who served with him in Vietnam, who called out of the blue to offer help. The Sunday afternoon before the Monday caucuses, Mr. Kerry was at a rally with hundreds who packed into a high school auditorium in Waterloo, Iowa. His daughters were there. Fellow Massachusetts senator and Democratic icon Ted Kennedy was there. But it was a portly veteran from the Oregon coast who brought that crowd to tears, and then to their feet, with his emotional tale of Mr. Kerry's heroism on a swift boat in an obscure Vietnamese waterway.

It was as if the understated testimonial by Jim Rassmann caused a switch to be thrown in Mr. Kerry's head that afternoon. The energy from that event took him to the nomination. But, as we all now know, his military service turned out to be a two-edged sword, cutting badly against him in August. Wounds suffered there doomed his campaign.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Ohioans were treated to an extraordinary dose of both presidential campaigns, with state Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett characterizing the White House race as one that looked more like a campaign for Ohio governor.

Ohio reporters were spoiled with constant attention from both the Bush and Kerry campaigns. White House campaign calls to my home were more frequent than telemarketers. As the election drew closer, Mr. Bush seemed to feed on the campaign stops, gaining energy as the crowds grew larger in the closing weeks of the campaign. A rally under an unusually warm late October sun in Findlay will stick in my mind for years because of the candidate's energy and enthusiastic message. While the national press was predicting the President's defeat at about the time of that rally, it was clear he had other plans. So did those energetic supporters.

And soon we will do it all again. Anyone who thinks Ohio, with its 20 electoral votes and its status as a toss-up, will be any less important in the next White House race doesn't understand presidential politics.

RAY KEST: Everyone makes mistakes. And knowing that, our public officials operate in an atmosphere where there are checks and balances just to make sure everyone follows the rules. Unfortunately, the system of keeping elected officials on track had disintegrated, and Lucas County Treasurer Ray Kest figured that out. When he got caught, it ended his career.

In retrospect, it's easy to understand what happened. Poll responses have shown locals simply don't accept his excuses.

Not that that keeps him from offering them.

Watching as Democratic Party domination over county government began to crumble in 2002, when Republican Maggie Thurber used accusations of corruption to unseat Democratic county Commissioner Sandy Isenberg, you would have thought Mr. Kest might have straightened his path. But, as a radio interview last week again showed, Mr. Kest sees his life in very different terms than do those around him. That distorted perspective led him to draw unrealistically rosy conclusions about his bleak circumstances. As with wayward children, the more he tries to excuse his own behavior, the less the rest of us feel inclined to do so.

He said last week he thinks the good deeds in his many years as a public servant should outweigh the few missteps we all now know so well. The one truth about his career in public life that he must know - even if he is unwilling to acknowledge it - is that he can do nothing more than offer testimony, persuasive or not. Those he was elected to serve will act as the judge.

JACK FORD: The Toledo mayor will run for re-election next year amid circumstances that may make it the most difficult political race he has ever faced. A tough economy, a tough city budget. Maybe a tough opponent.

CARTY FINKBEINER: The former mayor, hungry for a comeback, may be that opponent.



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