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Published: Wednesday, 11/8/2006

Brown romps; GOP loses its grip on House

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

It was a blue night for Ohio, for the nation, and most of all, for Republicans.

From One Government Center to the governor s mansion to Capitol Hill, Democrats charged to wins yesterday on the backs of an electorate eager for change.

U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland ended a 16-year Republican hold on Ohio s governorship. U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown unseated a two-term GOP incumbent in the U.S. Senate.

As the clock ticked toward Wednesday, Democrats still had a chance to sweep the attorney general, auditor, secretary of state, and treasurer s races after not winning a statewide nonjudicial election for 14 years.

It s a landslide, said Chris Redfern, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman. Ohioans have asked for change and they ve gotten what they asked for. This is a movement, where people will finally come first.

Returns and projections showed Democrats poised to control the U.S. House for the first time since 1994. They needed wins in Missouri, Virginia, and Montana which remained too close to call early this morning to take the Senate as well.

The House shift makes U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) suddenly one of the most influential members of Congress.

Several U.S. House races in Ohio remained close as the night wore on. Democrats picked up one seat for sure: the 18th congressional, held until recently by former U.S. Rep. Bob Ney (R., Heath), who resigned in a lobbying scandal.

Democrat Joe McNamara held an open seat on the Toledo city council, all-but assuring that a Democrat will assume the council presidency. The party appeared set, with victories in races for commissioner and auditor, to occupy every countywide executive office.

Who said Democrats don t vote in the rain? commissioner-elect Ben Konop said to applause at the UAW Local 12 hall.

A pair of Michigan Democrats, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Gov. Jennifer Granholm, won re-election despite concerns about their state s economy.

Polls and political analysts attributed the Democratic tornado nationwide to voter unrest over the Iraq war and GOP scandal.

Voters are looking for a change, said Michael Burton, an assistant professor of political science at Ohio University and a former operative for Vice President Al Gore. The sense is that the guys in charge have not been in charge very well.

In Ohio, scandals were magnified by the ongoing theft trial of former GOP power broker Tom Noe and the recent bribery plea and resignation of Mr. Ney. They were complemented by voter anger at outgoing GOP Gov. Bob Taft and the sputtering state economy he has overseen.

In the face of gloomy poll numbers this month, Republicans insisted their celebrated get-out-the-vote machine would propel them to improbable wins. It did not, even though the state party led the nation for weeks in GOP voter outreach.

Late returns suggested a pair of Supreme Court candidates, and possibly auditor candidate Mary Taylor, could be the only statewide Republican survivors. Among the GOP stalwarts headed for defeat were U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, secretary of state Ken Blackwell, and auditor Betty Montgomery.

The electorate sent us a message this evening, Mr. Blackwell told supporters after conceding the governor s race to Mr. Strickland.

John McClelland, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, said the GOP faced a tough environment in Ohio this year.

We have Tom Noe, who is a criminal, basically, he said. We had Bob Ney, who resigned way too late. We had unfortunately an unpopular governor.

The two parties were a study in contrasts for the final weeks of the campaign. Democrats confidently toured the state in packs, often letting Mr. Strickland who led Mr. Blackwell by double-digits in the polls for months play pitchman for down-ballot candidates.

Republicans mostly campaigned solo. Mr. DeWine and Mr. Blackwell, the leaders of the state ticket, rarely appeared at the same events.

Party insiders said both campaigns grew frustrated with their inability to dent Mr. Strickland or Mr. Brown with attacks on taxes, social issues, and character.

Democratic success appeared to carry over to two statewide ballot measures championed by organized labor and public health advocates: an increase in the minimum wage and a statewide smoking ban.

Political analysts buzzed with comparisons to 94 when Republicans rolled to power in the House but Mr. Brown likened the evening to Democrats post-Watergate wins in 1974.

This is the biggest year since, he said.

Ohio realized this year that we were at a crossroads.

He and other newly empowered Democrats, nationally and in Ohio, turned almost immediately to talk of how they would govern post-campaign.

I believe that the people of Ohio are sending us a clear message to abandon the politics of divisiveness and, instead, focus on the core issues that matter most in their lives, Mr. Strickland said in his victory speech.

Added Mr. Brown: Voters want a very different direction on Iraq, on jobs, on health care, on education, and that s our responsibility now.

Staff writer Steve Eder contributed to this story.

Contact Jim Tankersley at: jtankersley@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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