COLUMBUS - Gov. Ted Strickland talked about his Republican opponent so often on the campaign trail Wednesday that out of habit he mistakenly called northeast Ohio Congressman John Boccieri "John Kasich.''
But then he returned to a familiar theme - Mr. Kasich.
"The man who's running against me, John Kasich, when he was a congressman, worked to privatize Social Security," he told about 50 seniors in the West Side Community House on Cleveland. "Can you imagine what would have happened when the stock market crashed had Social Security been privatized? It would have been massive pain and despair across our country, so Social Security must be protected at all cost."
It was a message repeated later at centers in Maple Heights and the inner-city Cleveland neighborhood of Fairfax.
It didn't matter that the Ohio governor has no authority over Social Security, as state Rep. Mike Skindell (D., Lakewood) had noted at West Side when an audience member asked why he and other seniors hadn't received a Social Security cost-of-living raise this year. Mr. Strickland, however, said later that it's a legitimate issue in the governor's race.
"It says something about how we think about public policy, what our priorities are, what our judgment is," he said. "I think it says a lot about a person's judgment. If he and others had been successful in encouraging at least a partial privatization of Social Security, it would have been devastating, not just to the seniors but, quite frankly, it would have been devastating to the state of Ohio and the United States of America. I think all of our records, my record and his record, are subject to scrutiny and analysis, and it's a fair discussion point."
Mr. Kasich, in turn, accused Mr. Strickland of leveling the Social Security attack to divert attention from his own record.
"What does he want to do?" Mr. Kasich asked. "We have 400,000 people out of work. Does he have any ideas for anything? The only ideas he [has is he] gets up every morning and figures out how he can take another shot at me."
At least to some extent, Mr. Strickland's message appeared to resonate in the senior centers he visited Wednesday.
"You bet it does," said Andy Fejes, of Brooklyn, Ohio, who was in the West Side audience. "It's all I hear when I see these commercials on TV, what [Mr. Kasich] did on Wall Street with all the money he gave over to that one company that went bankrupt [Lehman Brothers]. Seniors lost millions of dollars. People take that into consideration."
At the West Side center, Mr. Strickland sat with an elderly woman worried that her Medicaid prescription prices are about to go up. At the inner-city Langston Senior Center, he led "Happy Birthday" for a center member.
He defended President Obama's stimulus package, which Republicans have argued unnecessarily ran up the national deficit without achieving the economic return promised.
"That stimulus bill has provided an additional almost $3 billion to Ohio so that we can provide Medicaid services to people," the governor said at Langston. "Those services would have been cut or eliminated without that additional money, because the state simply doesn't have that money to put into that program."
Mr. Strickland spent the last two days concentrating on the Cleveland area, knowing that statewide Democratic candidates need a huge voter turnout coming out of Cuyahoga County to win on Nov. 2, even in the face of recent public corruption charges against local Democratic officials.
"I see no evidence whatsoever that what some people did that was unethical and illegal has any effect on my race," he said.
"… Republicans have nothing to compare with our effort of getting out the vote. This is going to be a close election. I think it'll be decided within one and three percentage points. I think what we're doing in terms of this massive get-out-the-vote effort will be what makes the difference."
Part of that effort includes bringing Mr. Obama back to Ohio, this time for a Sunday rally at Cleveland State University, coinciding with extended early-voting hours at the nearby Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. Vice President Joe Biden will join him there and lead another rally in Toledo later.
Former President Bill Clinton plans to visit three cities on Saturday.
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The Democratic governor, locked in a tough political fight, worked Cleveland-area senior citizens for votes, reminding them that his administration expanded a property tax break for senior homeowners and eliminated a waiting list for a program providing in-home care as an option to nursing homes.