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Democrats view Ohio as fertile territory in '08

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The first official Democratic presidential primary is nearly two years away. But an unofficial, cash-driven "preprimary" is raging already in the state that tipped the 2004 presidential election.

Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and several other Democrats with eyes on the 2008 presidential campaign are lining up to raise money for Ohio Democrats in 2006. Analysts say they are bringing mixed motives with them.

Mr. Kerry will headline a May 20 benefit in Toledo for the state Democratic Party, with tickets up to $1,000 each.

Mrs. Clinton will host a fundraiser for gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland in New York the day before.

Former vice presidential nominee John Edwards and retired Gen. Wesley Clark recently raised money for Democrats in Ohio. State party Chairman Chris Redfern said others scheduled for upcoming events include former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware. All are on the still-long short list for '08.

"Every significant national Democrat is offering to come to Ohio to help us," Mr. Redfern said.

Analysts say it is easy to see why, starting with Ohio's traditional swing status.

Republican scandals surrounding fund-raiser Tom Noe and Gov. Bob Taft - kicked off by Blade stories last year about failed state rare-coin investments and gifts to the governor and his staff - have convinced Democrats they can win big statewide this fall, victories the party believes could help its nominee snag Ohio's 20 electoral votes two years later.

"Everyone's smelling a win here, and they want to be part of it," said political consultant Jim Ruvolo, who chaired Mr. Kerry's 2004 campaign in Ohio, adding, "You want to start building IOUs. You want people to owe you if you're going to run for president."

Mr. Ruvolo said he views Mr. Kerry's fund-raising trip, along with his meeting with former donors and supporters in Cincinnati earlier this month, as signs the Massachusetts senator is interested in another presidential run.

Mr. Strickland, a congressman from southern Ohio, said this week he considers himself "good friends" with Mrs. Clinton.

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said Mrs. Clinton's fund-raiser could boost both Mr. Strickland's political future and her own.

"Those two goals are joined at the hip," said Mr. Rothenberg, who edits the Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. "By helping Ted Strickland, she's helping herself, and she's helping her party."

A state Republican Party spokesman, John McClelland, said he has not seen similar interest from Republican presidential hopefuls so far, though President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney both raised money for Ohio Republicans recently.

Contact Jim Tankersley at:

jtankersley@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.

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