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Published: 10/20/2010

Strickland leaving little to chance with frequent visits to Democratic stronghold

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Employees of clothing manufacturer Hugo Boss applaud Gov. Ted Strickland during a campaign rally in a Cleveland union hall. Employees of clothing manufacturer Hugo Boss applaud Gov. Ted Strickland during a campaign rally in a Cleveland union hall.
AMY SANCETTA / AP Enlarge

CLEVELAND - Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland attended the grand opening of a bus terminal in downtown Cleveland Tuesday morning, followed by an afternoon rally with union workers a few blocks away.

Last night, recording artist Jackson Browne was scheduled to perform at a fund-raiser for Mr. Strickland at a home in Cuyahoga County's Moreland Hills, a Cleveland suburb, and on Sunday President Obama and his wife were in suburban Cleveland to raise money for the Democratic governor.

Two days before that, Mr. Strickland was in Cleveland for a Glenville High School football game, and campaign manager Aaron Pickrell said the governor will definitely be back to the area before Election Day on Nov. 2.

As public polling continues to suggest that Mr. Strickland's re-election campaign is slipping away from him. A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday showed Republican challenger John Kasich with a 10-point lead - a huge victory in traditional Democratic stronghold Cuyahoga County is essential for the governor to win statewide.

In what could only be viewed as the worst possible timing for statewide Democratic candidates like Mr. Strickland who count on heavy support in greater Cleveland, Cuyahoga County's party is entrenched in a corruption scandal centered around its former chairman and current county Commissioner Jimmy Dimora.

Mr. Strickland, his aides, and other state and local Democrats say the governor will not be hurt by the federal corruption charges against Mr. Dimora, former county Auditor Frank Russo, and other public officials and businessmen that led to countywide government reforms.

But at the very least, Mr. Strickland's frequent visits to the area are a sign that his campaign is leaving nothing to chance in a region he needs to win big. Most experts say he needs a 100,000-vote victory in Cuyahoga County for a shot at re-election.

"Yes, I think we need to win Cuyahoga County by 100,000 votes, and I think we can," Strickland campaign manager Aaron Pickrell said. "We're on track. I feel very good about Cuyahoga County."

Voters in Cuyahoga County are set to elect a county executive and 11-member county council to replace the board of county commissioners and most row officers. The reforms have followed the federal government's investigation and subsequent charges stemming from a wide-ranging atmosphere of bribery and fraud that encompassed many branches of a county government ruled by Democrats.

Mr. Dimora, who was arrested last month, pleaded not guilty to 26 charges of corruption-related crimes. Mr. Russo pleaded guilty last month to 21 corruption-related charges.

"I think it will definitely have some impact this year," said Mary Anne Sharkey, a public affairs consultant in the Cleveland area and former communications director for former Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican. "Ted Strickland will not lose in Cuyahoga County, but he has to come out with 100,000, maybe 120,000 or even 130,000 votes above what John Kasich gets. And what you have here is an enthusiastic Republican party and a Democratic party in disarray."

"I don't see any evidence of that," Mr. Strickland countered. "I don't see any evidence of that in our polling, I don't see any evidence in my interaction with folks. I think people have the ability to understand that simply because there were some people who acted badly and may have broken the law, that should not be generalized to those who were totally uninvolved."

In 2006, Mr. Strickland clobbered Republican candidate Ken Blackwell by about 228,000 votes in Cuyahoga County en route to a landslide election in the first of two Democratic waves at the polls.

According to the Board of Elections, Cuyahoga County is the 13th-largest voting jurisdiction in the United States with about 978,000 registered voters. More than 371,000 of those voters are registered Democrats, compared to the county's 106,000 registered Republicans and 500,000 political independents.

A count of absentee ballots requested in 2010 - a tea-leaves barometer for election results - shows that about 117,000 Cuyahoga County Democrats had asked for absentee ballots through Monday, compared with 48,000 Republicans and 40,000 voters with no affiliation.

About 45,000 Democrats returned completed absentee ballots, compared with 19,000 Republicans and 11,000 independents.

"If Jimmy Dimora really had the power that some have suggested, you would see a dramatic fallout in our absentee numbers," Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern said. "Jimmy did not drive voters to the polls. That's not what he did."

Jane Platten, executive director for the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, said voter turnout could be around 400,000 - a sign that Democrats, Republicans, and voters with no party affiliation lack enthusiasm for the election. There were more than 450,000 votes cast in the 2006 gubernatorial election here.

Last week, a poll of likely voters conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati showed that Mr. Kasich held a two-point lead over Mr. Strickland in northeast Ohio, which includes but is not limited to Cuyahoga County.

While Mr. Strickland plans to canvass the state during the campaign's final two weeks, it's no secret that northeast Ohio is a targeted area.

"We're going where there are tremendous opportunities to drive people to the polls," Mr. Redfern said.

Wednesday Mr. Strickland will visit businesses in Oberlin, Akron, and Mansfield. He rallied Tuesday with workers who kept their jobs at a Hugo Boss men's suit factory in Brooklyn, Ohio, that was saved from closure and relocation to Turkey earlier this year.

Contact Joe Vardon at: jvardon@theblade.com or 419-724-6559.



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