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Published: Wednesday, 3/3/2004

U.S. Senate: Voinovich breezes to win; challenger Fingerhut does too


COLUMBUS - Republican incumbent George Voinovich and Democratic challenger Eric Fingerhut coasted to victory yesterday in their contested primaries, setting the stage for a race expected to focus on experience versus a call to change Ohio s economy.

In incomplete results, Mr. Voinovich received 76 percent of the vote. John Mitchel, a systems analyst for a Dayton-area Department of Defense support contractor, trailed with 24 percent.

Mr. Voinovich, a two-term governor in the 1990s and former Cleveland mayor, is seeking a second six-year term in the U.S. Senate.

In the general election, he will face a challenge from Mr. Fingerhut, a state senator who lives in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights.

In incomplete results, Mr. Fingerhut received 69 percent of the vote, while former Cleveland Councilman Norbert Dennerll garnered 31 percent.

Mr. Fingerhut, 44, said last night that Ohioans want a “leader who knows how to get us to the future.”

“This election is not about Republicans and Democrats, or incumbents and challengers. It is about the past and the future. I have great respect for Senator Voinovich. There s a lot I agree with him on. But as governor of Ohio and our U.S. Senator, Ohio s economy clearly has gone in the wrong direction.”

Mr. Voinovich, 67, said he is “looking forward” to the campaign this fall.

Although Mr. Voinovich s campaign had a balance of $4.6 million at the end of 2003 - compared to the $176,000 for Mr. Fingerhut s campaign - Democrats are hoping that a close presidential race in Ohio will help make this year s U.S. Senate race competitive.

Mr. Voinovich spent yesterday in Washington, where the Senate voted 80-6 to reject a bill to provide legal immunity to gun manufacturers and dealers.

GOP backers of the legal immunity bill said Democratic-led amendments adopted yesterday to renew a ban on assault weapons and require more background checks at gun shows made it impossible for them to support the final product.

Mr. Voinovich voted in favor of the proposed extension of the decade-old ban on military-style assault weapons. He also supported closing the “gun-show loophole,” which would require people who buy firearms from private dealers at such shows to undergo background checks.

Mr. Fingerhut, a former U.S. Representative, said he shares Mr. Voinovich s stances on extending the ban on assault weapons and closing the “gun-show loophole.”

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