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Published: Friday, 11/7/2008

GOP in Ohio searching for fresh identity

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - The Republican Party is experiencing an "identity crisis" and must "rethink" how it can compete in the future, the state party's deputy chairman said yesterday after watching Ohio complete its transition from "red" to "blue."

"We have left as a party our conservative roots based in fiscal responsibility and limited government," said Kevin DeWine. "We have exchanged it for large government expansion, arguably the largest government expansion in the history of our nation.

"If you add to that the growing frustration over a five-year war, the unpopularity of a Republican president, the distracting fixation on social issues, and never-ending ethics concerns both in Ohio and nationally the electorate said it had enough, and I can't say that I blame them," he said.

On Tuesday, Republicans lost the White House to Democrat Barack Obama with Ohio's help, lost two and possibly three Ohio congressional seats, and surrendered control of the state House of Representatives to Democrats for the first time in 14 years.

After monopolizing state executive office as recently as 2006, Republicans hold one statewide executive - auditor.

There was some good news for Republicans. They maintained their 21-12 Ohio Senate majority and their monopoly of the state Supreme Court.

But Mr. DeWine said Republicans must engage middle-class, suburban, women, African-American, and young voters and adopt a "zero tolerance" for misconduct.

"We have to do a better job connecting on campuses," he said. "It's my belief that our party has lost a generation of young voters. The number of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 who look at the Republican Party as a party of choice for them is gone."

Despite Mr. DeWine's talk of a wider, more-inclusive tent, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said the Republican Party closes its doors too quickly to those who might want to come inside.

"There are good Republicans who can't win because the party only approves a pro-life position," he said.

"Of the 53 Democrats [in the House] on Jan. 1, 20 are pro-life. We don't have a litmus test. Kevin's words vindicate my long-held position that the Republican Party is not an inclusive party. They have a number of litmus tests that exclude good candidates."

Republicans are looking ahead at 2010, a crucial state election in which the GOP must make gains or risk sitting on the sidelines for years to come.

Three of the seats on the panel that will redraw state legislative districts in 2011 will be on the ballot in two years - governor, secretary of state, and auditor. If no changes are brought about in that election, Democrats will control that panel 3-2 and be in position to redraw the map that will shape Ohio House and Senate elections for the next decade.

Mr. DeWine threw out a series of names that he considers to represent the party's future, among them U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, Speaker of the House Jon Husted, Auditor Mary Taylor, and state Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills).

"What the party needs is a new set of faces and a new set of ideas," he said. "It's what the party needs to do not just here in Ohio, but what the party needs to do nationally."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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