CINCINNATI - On a stretch of I-75 between Piqua and Troy, the campaign buses of Kenneth Blackwell and Jim Petro passed each other as the Republican candidates for governor focused on getting their supporters to the polls today.
It was fitting that the buses were headed in opposite directions, for Mr. Petro and Mr. Blackwell provided a sharp contrast on the campaign trail as the first hotly contested Republican primary for governor in 20 years came to a close.
Using their own shotguns, Mr. Blackwell and his wife, Rosa, did some target shooting at Jaqua's Fine Guns in Findlay.
"We choose to stop here because what underscores our campaign is a fundamental belief in freedom, not just First Amendment freedoms where we carry our faith into the public square," said Mr. Blackwell, Ohio's secretary of state. "We are talking about Second Amendment freedom because we believe in free men and free women and free markets. What we are going to do tomorrow is strike a blow for freedom."
Mr. Petro, the state's attorney general, ended a three-day bus tour in front of Government Center in Toledo, where he stuck to his theme that he's best qualified to run state government and usher in a "fresh start for Ohio."
"In November, regardless of which party has been in power and the many attacks from the Democrats, the voters of Ohio don't really look at whether the candidate is a Republican or a Democrat," Mr. Petro told backers earlier in the day at GOP headquarters in Dayton. "Those voters look to see who presents a vision; a real vision, a strategic vision of reform and change for Ohio and the ideas that can change the state."
In an interview as his bus rolled from Toledo to Columbus, Mr. Petro acknowledged that some of his supporters had wanted him to focus on social issues in the final weeks of the primary election campaign, but he felt it was important to discuss "substantive reform issues."
"That might have proved to be kind of boring, but I believed you need to have a plan on how to change Ohio," Mr. Petro said.
At events in West Chester, Dayton, Lima, and Toledo, Mr. Petro said his plan to restructure state government would save up to $2 billion, letting the state accelerate tax cuts and invest more in schools and higher education.
Mr. Blackwell awoke in Toledo and spent the day campaigning along I-75, stopping in Findlay, Piqua, Troy, Dayton, Springboro, and ending in his hometown, Cincinnati. Mr. Blackwell appeared relaxed, exuding confidence by speaking less about Mr. Petro and more about his potential Democratic adversary in the general election, U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland.
"We are going to close out the primary season, and we look forward to Mr. Strickland because we know that he is a big-spending, big government, big liberal who in fact cannot build the sort of future for Ohio that Tom and I will," said Mr. Blackwell, referring to his running mate, state Rep. Tom Raga of Mason.
Mr. Strickland (D., Lisbon) preached jobs, education, and the end of Republican rule to a packed house of supporters at the Tony Packo's restaurant across from Fifth Third Field in Toledo last night.
Mr. Strickland told the crowd he was buoyed by raising $5 million for the campaign so far, and by recent polls that show him leading in the Democratic primary and the general election. But he said coming close, in this election, would not suffice.
"We're going to care more than the other side cares," Mr. Strickland said. "We're going to be committed more than they're committed. We're going to be more self-sacrificing ... and after we win, we are going to give this state back to the people of Ohio, and we will go to work."
Democrat Bryan Flannery, a former state representative, was the only gubernatorial candidate to miss Toledo yesterday. He planned16 other stops across the state, however, as part of his campaign's push to hit all 88 Ohio counties in the final 88 hours before Election Day.
In Dayton and Springboro, two men protested Mr. Blackwell's support for a 2004 ballot issue that added Ohio's ban on gay marriage to the state Constitution.
Mark Hassel, a 48-year-old Dayton resident, and his partner, Jason Cochrane, a Canadian citizen, held signs, "Wake up Ohio, Stop the Hate."
"His stance is pretty firm," said Mr. Hassel, an artist and Air Force veteran. "He's against marriage equality for all Americans."
Mr. Blackwell responded to the couple while campaigning in Springboro.
"This is not about them; It's not about hating them. It's about understanding and having respect for bedrock institutions in our culture that are consistent with our Judeo-Christian [beliefs]. It's a simple concept. Marriage is between one man and one woman," Mr. Blackwell added.
Mr. Petro's bus tour ended with the 2 1/2-hour drive from Toledo to Columbus. As his wife, Nancy, and their two children, 29-year-old John and Cory, 27, spent most of the time in the back of the bus, Mr. Petro sat with campaign aides and two reporters and watched a stream of TV campaign ads.
"That's not true," Mr. Petro said as a Blackwell campaign ad appeared in which Mr. Petro was accused of supporting same-sex marriage.
Blade politics writer Jim Tankersley contributed to this report.
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