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Published: Sunday, 10/27/2002

O'Connor, Burnside ahead in contests for Ohio's top court

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

Lieutenant Gov. Maureen O'Connor has opened up a 14-point lead over Tim Black in the race for one seat on the Ohio Supreme Court, while incumbent Justice Evelyn Stratton narrowly trails challenger Janet Burnside in the race for another seat on the state's highest court, a new poll shows.

But the survey, commissioned by The Blade and WTVG-TV Channel 13 and conducted by Zogby International of Utica, N.Y., shows many voters have yet to make up their minds in both races.

Ms. O'Connor leads Judge Black of Hamilton County Municipal Court, 43 percent to 29 percent with 28 percent undecided. The two are battling for the seat being vacated by Toledoan Andy Douglas, who is being forced off the bench because of age.

In the race for the other seat, Judge Burnside of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, has 33 percent support, compared to 30 for Justice. Stratton, while 37 percent said they were unsure which candidate to support.

The Ohio Democratic Party has endorsed Judge Black and Judge Burnside, while the state Republican Party has endorsed Justice Stratton and Ms. O'Connor. The races are officially nonpartisan.

Overall, 56 percent of respondents said they believe Ohio is moving in the right direction. Judge Burnside has strong support among the minority who said the state is off the right track. She leads, 41 percent, compared to 22 percent for Justice Stratton. Among those who have a union member in their household - a key demographic for judicial candidates with Democratic Party support - Judge Burnside leads, 43 percent to 27 percent.

Among nonunion households, Justice Stratton holds a 31 percent to 29 percent edge.

The challenger holds a narrow advantage - 5 percent - among independent voters.

Ideological control of the court is at stake. Justice Douglas, a Republican, has sided with Democrats in forging a majority on the court. In his absence, Democrats will retain control if they win either Supreme Court race.

In their contest, Justice Stratton and Judge Burnside evenly split their support among men and women. But in the other Supreme Court race, Ms. O'Connor benefits greatly from women voters, who give her a 48 percent to 24 percent edge over Judge Black. Among men, Ms. O'Connor leads Judge Black by two points, 37 percent to 35 percent.

Though Ms. O'Connor has espoused a conservative judicial philosophy on the campaign trail, she leads among progressives and liberals as well as among conservative thinkers. The two evenly split the support of moderates.

Judge Black narrowly lost a race for the state's high court two years ago to Deborah Cook.



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