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Published: Sunday, 12/10/2006

Ohio GOP tries to pick up the pieces

BY JIM TANKERSLEY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

It was less than a week after Election Day, and the sting was still fresh when Doug Haynam took a call from a Rudy Giuliani supporter.

Mr. Haynam, a former chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, had just coordinated U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine's failed re-election bid in the county. The caller wanted him for a new job: organizing local Republican businessmen for a fund-raiser with Mr. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor now considering a 2008 presidential bid.

Mr. Haynam accepted. "There's always another election," he said this week.

Republicans across the state are anxious to put last month's election - which saw Democrats gain the governorship, Mr. DeWine's Senate seat, every statewide executive position except one, and every nonjudicial office in Lucas County government - behind them.

To do it, some party leaders are looking back.

The state GOP has launched a comprehensive review of its 2006 political strategy, including campaign spending, voter turnout efforts, and outreach to targeted "coalitions" such as sportsmen and African-Americans.

Party officials also are scouring their farm system of legislative and local officeholders to find a new crop of candidates to lead future Republican tickets.

A muddy 2008 field and a pending shake-up atop the state party could complicate the efforts, but prominent Republicans agree their goal is clear: Next time, they must do better.

"I'm not suggesting that what happened this year is a long-term trend," said Jason Mauk, the state GOP political director. "But I do believe that it serves as a wake-up call."

Mr. Mauk's review of 2006 strategy is due in January. In the next month, he'll sift election results and exit polls to analyze why Republicans fell short of expectations with African-Americans, Hispanics, women in suburbs and outlying areas, absentee voters, and residents of two southeast Ohio congressional districts that formerly belonged to Gov.-elect Ted Strickland and scandal-sunk ex-Rep. Bob Ney.

The party also is grappling with a drop in intensity, compared to the 2004 presidential race, that it saw this year in volunteer recruitment, voter registration, and outreach to special-interest "coalitions."

For example: Mr. Mauk said sportsmen happily made phone calls supporting President Bush two years ago. This year, some phone-bank workers refused to dial on behalf of Mr. DeWine, who was endorsed by a leading gun-control advocate.

Mr. Mauk probably isn't looking to Democrats for advice, but state Democratic chairman Chris Redfern offers some anyway: "Move to the middle."

Some Republicans will spend this month less reflectively, particularly Statehouse leaders who consider their continued hold in both the House and the Senate to be one of the party's few successes from November. By contrast, Republicans lost control of chambers in Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, and other Midwest states.

House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) said legislative Republicans already know what worked for them with voters, including a comprehensive tax overhaul and what he described as the most fiscally conservative state budget in 40 years.

Before they decide how to move forward, Mr. Husted said, legislators are waiting for Mr. Strickland to detail his policy agenda. "There's no reason for us to lay our cards down face up until the governor lays his cards down face up," Mr. Husted said. "We don't have to go first."

Auditor-elect Mary Taylor, the GOP's lone nonjudicial statewide winner, said she's worrying about how to run her office - including how to audit Medicare comprehensively - and not about politics. "The best that we can do for all Ohioans," she said, "is focus on doing the best jobs we can in the jobs we've been elected to do."

GOP leaders mention Ms. Taylor and Mr. Husted as leaders in an upcoming pack of potential star candidates for 2010. The party will need to find at least one star before then: a replacement for state GOP Chairman Bob Bennett, who wants to serve two more years and retire.

Lucas County Republicans are hoping one of the party's would-be 2008 stars will help their rebuilding process by headlining a fund-raising dinner this spring. The party also is looking for local candidates in Toledo and its suburbs for 2007 elections.

As Bob Reichert, the county chairman, puts it: "We need to let people know that we're still around and moving forward."

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



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