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Published: Thursday, 4/27/2006

Governor candidate states case on issues

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

ASHTABULA - The mustachioed man was a train conductor, then he retired, then he graduated with honors in civil engineering from Youngstown State. His name is Jerry Hurst. He was born here in Ohio's northeastern tip, and he has searched it two fruitless years for a job in his new field.

He is mad at Gov. Bob Taft.

Bryan Flannery found him at a corner table of a Buffalo Wild Wings, drinking a soda. Mr. Flannery, a Democratic candidate for governor, listened as Mr. Hurst complained that Mr. Taft had focused state dollars on Cincinnati and Columbus, and away from Ashtabula.

Mr. Flannery concurred - "We're hurting up here" - and promised, as governor, to make northeast Ohio a leader in medical manufacturing.

As he talked, a campaign aide handed Mr. Hurst and his tablemates a glossy page that also brought up Mr. Taft: This time, as a weapon against Mr. Flannery's primary opponent, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland (D., Lisbon).

Trailing in poll numbers, money, and endorsements, Mr. Flannery arced across the top of the state yesterday, carrying a two-punch strategy with him.

In speeches and conversations with voters, he pounded issues, such as cutting property taxes and reforming state education funding. But in campaign literature and press interviews, Mr. Flannery is trying to tie Mr. Strickland to Republican scandals - and paint himself as the only Democrat who can win in November.

The newest Flannery handout features Mr. Strickland's face on a trading card labeled "Ohio Politicians." Other cards, all bordered in green, show three Republicans: Mr. Taft and the two men vying for the GOP nod to replace him, Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell and Attorney General Jim Petro.

Mr. Flannery's face appears on a blue-bordered card labeled "Real Leader."

The caption claims Mr. Strickland, like the three Republicans, has links to embattled coin-dealer and Republican power broker Tom Noe - because Mr. Strickland's running mate, Lee Fisher, sponsored a tax break as a state legislator that helped rare coin dealers, including Mr. Noe.

That bill, Mr. Flannery said, helped "Tom Noe get his foot in the door" of state government. Because of it, he added, "if Ted Strickland is the candidate, Democrats are going to have a tough time winning in November."

A spokesman for Mr. Strickland, Jess Goode, said: "I think what sets Ted apart is that he's not a typical politician. He wasn't a son of privilege. He wasn't a lawyer. He's the son of a steelworker who had a career serving people - in the ministry, as a psychologist, and as a college professor - before he entered Congress in his 50s."

Mr. Strickland returns Friday from Washington for final campaigning before Tuesday's vote. Mr. Flannery, meanwhile, is set to launch a late television advertising push. Tomorrow, he will announce a plan that will put him or his running mate, Frank Stams, in each of Ohio's 88 counties during the election's final 88 hours.

His route was bumpy yesterday. Mr. Flannery's campaign car blew a tire en route to Ashtabula, hours after a late fund-raising dash forced him to cancel a public appearance in Toledo. In the afternoon, he squeaked 35 minutes late into a candidate forum at the United Steelworkers Hall in Lorain.

Perseverance appeared to pay off, at least with one voter: Mr. Hurst of Ashtabula, who said he was leaning toward Mr. Flannery on Tuesday. "I'll probably vote for him," Mr. Hurst said, "because I think we've been ignored up here."

Contact Jim Tankersley at:

jtankersley@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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