A smiling Tim Hagan, Democratic candidate for Ohio governor, campaigns in Cleveland's West Side market in his uphill battle to unseat GOP incumbent Bob Taft.
BARBERTON, Ohio - As Tim Hagan shook hands at the Magic City Lanes, a small smoke-filled bowling alley in a strip shopping center, he spotted a pool table.
Mr. Hagan loosened his tie, fed four quarters into the table to get a rack full of balls, lit a cigarette, and grabbed a pool cue. He challenged Kurt Landefeld, a Democrat running for the state House of Representatives, to a 10-minute game.
“Don't let the pressure get to you, Kurty boy,” Mr. Hagan said with a grin, a few seconds before Mr. Landefeld failed to pocket the 7-ball. “It's not good for your career to beat me.”
The game didn't end the way Mr. Hagan envisioned, as he knocked the eight-ball into a pocket he hadn't called.
But the Democratic candidate for governor didn't show any signs yesterday that he'll face a similar fate in his uphill battle against Republican incumbent Gov. Bob Taft on Nov. 5.
From a morning swing through the West Side market in his home base of Cleveland to a late afternoon fund-raiser in Salem, Mr. Hagan was greeted by loyal Democrats with “Hey, pal,” - Mr. Hagan's in-your-face response to statements Mr. Taft made in their last debate.
Mr. Hagan, a Youngstown native, was speaking their language.
“When you said `I'm not down on Ohio, Bob. I'm down on you,' I said the same words as you did,” U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland told Mr. Hagan.
At Barberton Democratic headquarters, Mr. Hagan thanked about 20 party volunteers for their help.
“With nine days to go, it's up for grabs. They've got a lot of money and we don't,” he said.
As Mr. Hagan walked out of the party headquarters, 79-year-old Clara Powell said she would vote for him.
“I've seen those negative ads that Taft is running against you. They're terrible,” she said.
Mr. Hagan then headed for his biggest challenge of the day - appealing for votes from high school football fanatics, many of whom weren't in the mood for politics on a cold and cloudy day.
But it didn't take long for Mr. Hagan to find some who were paying attention to the race.
Dale DiCarlo, whose 20-year-old daughter Sarah attends the University of Toledo, said he is leaning in favor of Mr. Hagan because of cuts in higher education funding that have sparked double-digit tuition hikes at state universities.
“I'll give it to you as a middle-class teacher. I've seen a $700 increase in tuition over the past year. Taft took off the tuition caps, which is unfair. I wrote a letter to him about it, and I got back a very generic e-mail,” Mr. DiCarlo said.
As 20,000 people filed into the Massillon football stadium for the Tigers' game against rival Canton McKinley, a man walked up to Mr. Hagan and said: “Governor Taft, he talks with his hands a lot. What's the deal?” Mr. Hagan just smiled.
When a Canton McKinley fan wouldn't shake Mr. Hagan's hand, he said: “You guys are right, I'm for Massillon.”
A man wearing a camouflage hat asked Mr. Hagan, who describes himself as a Franklin Delano Roosevelt Democrat, whether he's a member of the National Rifle Association. Mr. Hagan said no, and the man shook his head.
After shaking hands for about an hour, Mr. Hagan said he had several Republicans tell him, “I've never voted Democratic in my life, but I'm voting for you.
“I hear this all the time. Do you think it's real?”
After stumping at the football game, Mr. Hagan and his campaign aides headed for a restaurant in Alliance, where he watched the last quarter of the Notre Dame-Florida State football game and the start of the Ohio State-Penn State game.
“You've got to take a break once in a while or you'll lose your mind,” he said.
At the Summit County Democratic headquarters, Mr. Hagan said he learned from former U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum that “you've got to stand up and fight for something. We know who we are and where we came from. We're good and decent people. We have families. We go to the wall for our friends. We want to lead a good life,” he said.