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Published: Monday, 12/27/2004

In Ohio, the 2006 election is well under way

A few weeks before the Nov. 2 election, a colleague from another Ohio newspaper braced for the withdrawal.

We had covered a two-day John Edwards bus tour, starting at a church in inner-city Cincinnati and ending with a fiery speech at the SeaGate Centre in which the U.S. senator from North Carolina used the New York Times story about the missing arms cache in Iraq to attack President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

After a year in which Ohio was the heart of the presidential race, my colleague predicted we would miss the crowds, the stump speeches, Bruce Springsteen, the deadlines, the BBC's requests for interviews, and even the e-mails starting with: "How dare you present both sides of the story when it's clear my candidate speaks the truth and the other is a liar."

The beauty of elections is that they end, and there's always another one over the horizon.

And the 2006 statewide election is well under way.

The plight of the Ohio Democratic Party is well-documented. The problems facing the Ohio Republican Party - the legislature's tax increase of 2003 and the allegations of corruption that have ensnared aides to state Treasurer Joe Deters and House Speaker Larry Householder - largely were masked by the presidential race.

Thanks to the presidential race sucking most of the oxygen out of Ohio politics this year and GOP gerrymandering after the 1990 and 2000 censuses, the Republicans preserved their majorities in the state Senate and House.

As in 1998 and 2002, Democrats are hoping that the GOP cycle finally will end.

They pin their hopes on the logjam of GOP statewide candidates running for governor in 2006. The theory is that state Auditor Betty Montgomery (former attorney general), Attorney General Jim Petro (former auditor), and Secretary of State Ken Blackwell (former treasurer) will engage in a bloodletting, with the primary winner then devoured by a Democrat.

But there are two questions.

Do the Democrats have a viable candidate for governor?

Possible candidates include U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, and Akron Mayor Dan Plusquellic.

All have positives and negatives, but in a recent interview Richard Adams, a political science professor at Wright State University, said there are few signs that the Republicans are losing their grip on statewide offices.

The second question is: "What about Jerry?"

Jerry Springer took a pass on the U.S. Senate race in Ohio in 2000 against Republican Mike DeWine, first elected in 1994. This year, Mr. Springer took a pass on the Senate race against Republican George Voinovich, first elected in 1998.

Between those races, he has continued to amass wealth through his trash TV talk show, and has spread some of it around Ohio to county Democratic parties and candidates.

Republicans are pinching themselves.

DeWine vs. Springer?

Montgomery vs. Strickland?

They'll take their chances on those match-ups.

The Democratic National Committee should be alarmed about 2008, alarmed enough that they should consider a takeover of the Ohio Democratic Party.

If Robert F. Kennedy and Hillary Clinton can move to New York, why can't John Edwards move to Ohio?

It especially would be interesting for Mr. Edwards to move to Ohio, where Republicans have convinced physicians that attorneys, not insurance companies trying to recover their losses in the stock market, are behind rising malpractice insurance premiums.

Without Mr. Edwards on the ticket, John Kerry likely would have lost Ohio by a much wider margin.

In an interview with reporters from The Blade, the Dayton Daily News, and The Columbus Dispatch in mid-October, Mr. Edwards spoke at length about the parallels between North Carolina and Ohio, the mill towns and the factory cities; and how comfortable he felt stumping in cities like Lima and Portsmouth.

Edwards vs. DeWine. It would be a close race, but the kind of hurdle that a future presidential candidate must clear.

It also would help level the playing field between the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor.

And what would give Mrs. Clinton more fits than Mr. Edwards, in a state with 20 electoral votes where he literally could head the state Democratic Party with media market reach into Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

And most important, an Edwards-DeWine race would lead to the kind of debate in 2006 that Ohio and the nation deserves, a sequel to this year's presidential race.



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