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Published: Monday, 10/1/2007

Ohio favors waiting game over early primary rush

BY JOSHUA BOAK
BLADE POLITICS WRITER

The tradition of tiny New Hampshire hosting a vital opening round of the presidential primary season baffles Ohio Sen. Eric Kearney (D., Cincinnati), who believes the task should fall to this state.

More people live in metropolitan Cleveland than all of New Hampshire. Still, the Granite State s 1.3 million residents far more educated, Caucasian, and wealthier, on average, than the rest of the country get early dibs on picking Republican and Democratic nominees.

I went to college in New Hampshire, said Mr. Kearney, a Dartmouth graduate. I love it, but it s not representative of the United States. Ohio is.

Mr. Kearney has introduced a bill in the Ohio Senate to move the Buckeye State s 2008 primary to Jan. 29 from March 4.

Several states have moved up their primaries, including Michigan to Jan. 15 and Florida to Jan. 29. But the dominant trend in presidential politics has not gained traction in Ohio.

Those other states have front-loaded the primary schedule in hopes of displacing the dominance of Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire, which has yet to officially schedule its primary as a result.

The Michigan Democratic Party indicated that the historical emphasis placed on Iowa and New Hampshire makes the nomination process less meaningful, and results in the candidates paying less attention to the issues that are important to Michigan and other states.

In Ohio, Mr. Kearney faces resistance from his fellow political leaders, who want the swing state to continue waiting at the back of the primary pack because of its decisive 20 electoral votes in the general election.

We re comfortable with the fact that Ohio will pick the next president of the United States, said Randy Borntrager, spokesman for the state Democratic Party. The quicker the nominee is selected, the quicker the eyes of the nation will move to Ohio.

Rather than choose among Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., New York), Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.), and John Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina, Democrats in Ohio would prefer to rally around the nominee, Mr. Borntrager said.

Unlike California or New York, two large states with relatively early primaries on Feb. 5, Ohio voted Republican in 2000 and 2004. This past record means that a primary turf war matters less to Ohio Democrats than a presidential victory.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett said a front-loaded primary schedule could have destructive consequences for both parties.

In order to secure a nomination, presidential candidates win delegates in state primaries or caucuses who will support them at the party s convention. Mr. Bennett worries that the rush creates a national primary, which might exclude presidential candidates from smaller states with fewer delegates.

You re never going to be able to get a president like [Dwight] Eisenhower from Kansas, a Jimmy Carter from Georgia, or certainly a Bill Clinton from Arkansas, Mr. Bennett said.

An early primary season also would cause political advertisements to interrupt December holidays, he explained.

Whether you re Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, it s a holy time, Mr. Bennett said. And you re going to be turning on the TV and watching candidates beat up on each other? I don t think the American people are going to buy that.

States moved up their primaries to have a greater say in selecting party nominees, though Mr. Bennett said it would be impossible to duplicate in larger states the diner-and-doorstep visits that presidential candidates make in New Hampshire.

A July analysis by FairVote, a suburban Washington nonprofit group looking to reform primaries, found that the front-loaded schedule has increased fund-raisers in the more-populous states, rather than town hall meetings and individual interactions with voters.

Half of the 303 campaign events in New York, California, and Texas were fund-raisers. Less than 3 percent of the 1,272 campaign events in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina were for fund-raising.

So instead of causing more retail politicking in Orange County or the Upper East Side, the earlier New York and California primaries have only increased the focus on money. The larger states are subsidizing races in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, said Paul Fidalgo, a spokesman for FairVote.

Instead of moving up primaries, FairVote advocates segmenting the process so small states and territories vote in a cluster. The size of the clusters would grow in intervals so larger states with the most delegates voted toward the end of the primary season, which would theoretically be more competitive.

Even in Toledo, the subject of how to improve national participation in selecting presidential candidates is debated.

Lucas Albright hosted a dinner at Tony Packo s on Front Street on Tuesday to promote his self-published book, Winning the White House in 2008, which he co-wrote with his wife, Mary Helen. Mr. Albright argues for replacing state primaries with regional elections and symposiums where candidates would debate issues.

The only thing I can do is go around to these cities like Paul Revere and say, Voters Beware! Mr. Albright said.

Contact Joshua Boak at: jboak@theblade.com or 419-724-6728.



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