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Published: Sunday, 10/27/2002

Poll: Taft leads lukewarm race

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft holds a double-digit lead over challenger Tim Hagan in his race for re-election, but likely voters appear lukewarm to the idea of giving him a second term, a new poll shows.

A poll of 602 likely voters, commissioned by The Blade and WTVG-TV Channel 13 and conducted by Zogby International of Utica, N.Y., also shows Republicans leading in every statewide nonjudicial race.

The survey, conducted Thursday through yesterday, carries a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percent.

Mr. Taft, a Republican incumbent in his 12th year as a statewide officeholder, is supported by 49 percent, compared to 35 percent for Mr. Hagan, a Democrat. Also, 15 percent said they were undecided for whom to vote as the race approaches its last week.

“What was interesting to me is that less than half say he deserves to be re-elected,” said John Zogby, president of the polling firm. “It seems to me this could have been a race.”

“Hagan's problem is in Cleveland,” he said. “That is really where he should be mopping up, and he is not. If a Democrat hopes to win statewide in Ohio, he's got to come out of Cleveland with a huge lead, and he's not doing that.”

Mr. Hagan, who makes his home in Cuyahoga County and had been a county commissioner there for 16 years, has garnered 36 percent support in the Cleveland area, leading Mr. Taft of Cincinnati by just three points there.

By contrast, Mr. Taft holds a sizable edge over Mr. Hagan - 51 percent to 36 percent - in southwest Ohio, the incumbent's home turf.

In the northern tier of Ohio outside the Cleveland area, including Lucas County, Mr. Taft leads 47 percent to 35 percent. He has made many trips to Toledo and other spots in northwest Ohio in recent weeks in an effort to chip away at the Democratic base that supported Democrat Lee Fisher in the race for governor four years ago.

Mr. Taft was back in the area campaigning last night, shaking hands at the Imperial Lanes bowling alley on Central Avenue. He said the poll figures give him little comfort.

“I never trust those polls. I have been in too many races,” he said. “It's very hard for any poll to know which people will take the time to vote. This is a very serious election, so I hope people will take the time.”

He said he is not surprised that 15 percent of respondents said they had yet to make up their minds in the race because dramatic national events unfolding recently have captured people's attention.

“It means that voters are not really focusing on this race until the last week or 10 days,” he said. “We are trying to educate the voters about some of the differences between candidates in this race.”

The race is closest in central Ohio, where the incumbent has the support of 45 percent, compared to 41 percent for Mr. Hagan.

Mr. Hagan said he was encouraged by The Blade's poll results.

“Taft is under 50 percent. An incumbent who has spent $9 million and is under 50 percent is an incumbent in trouble. That's why he went negative,” he said, adding that he hopes to convince undecided voters he is a legitimate alternative to Mr. Taft.

“People don't know who I am with nine days left in the campaign. People are going to wait, and so what we do in these last nine days is important. This negative ad that Taft is running against me is a big risk. People will ask, `Why is he doing this?' And he's making me the issue. That's a big risk when you're under 50 percent. We're going down to the wire.”

The Taft campaign is now airing an animated ad that questions Mr. Hagan's qualifications for office.

Mr. Hagan is having trouble motivating his base to support him, Mr. Zogby said. The poll shows that just 63 percent of Democrats support their party's nominee, and that Mr. Taft has made inroads across the aisle - 21 percent of Democrats say they support the governor.

Among Republicans, Mr. Taft has the support of 80 percent, compared to 8 percent who say they back Mr. Hagan.

Another clue to Mr. Hagan's weakness is found among those respondents who live in households with at least one member of organized labor. Traditionally one of the strongest demographics for Democratic Party candidates, Mr. Hagan is supported by just 48 percent of those with ties to unions, while Mr. Taft has support from 36 percent.

Those numbers indicate Mr. Taft has taken advantage of endorsements he has won from Ohio Teamsters and some building trades unions.

The incumbent apparently is benefiting somewhat from a sense of optimism among Ohioans, 56 percent of whom say the state is moving in the right direction.

Fifty-seven percent said Mr. Taft is doing a good job leading the state.

Among those who say things are going fine, 66 percent said Mr. Taft deserves re-election, while 17 percent want a change. Seventeen percent are undecided.

Mr. Taft leads by double-digit margins among both men and women.

In other races for statewide office, the GOP appears poised to repeat its sweep of the nonjudicial offices for the third straight election cycle, but heading down the campaign stretch, voters seem to be in no rush to choose their candidates.

The only Republican polling above 50 percent - the minimum benchmark by which an incumbent can feel their race is under control - is Betty Montgomery, the state attorney general and former state senator and Wood County prosecutor. Looking to make a lateral move to the office of state auditor, she leads Democrat Helen Smith, 56 percent to 27 percent.

In the race for Secretary of State, Republican incumbent Kenneth Blackwell leads Democratic challenger Bryan Flannery, 48 percent to 27 percent, with 1 in 4 respondents saying they haven't yet made up their minds.

In the race for state attorney general, Republican James Petro - now the state auditor - is leading Democrat Leigh Herrington, 50 percent to 29 percent.

In a race that looked precarious for Republican incumbent Treasurer Joe Deters two months ago, the poll shows he has gained momentum.

Mr. Deters now leads Democratic challenger Mary Boyle, a former state representative and Cuyahoga County commissioner making her third statewide run for political office.

Mr. Deters has a 43 percent to 36 percent lead.

This summer, a poll had Ms. Boyle ahead by 10 percentage points.

The race is still very close, Mr. Zogby said, because only seven points separate the candidates, and 20 percent remain undecided.

Ms. Boyle is the only Democrat running on the nonjudicial portion of the statewide ballot to lead in Toledo and other portions of northern Ohio outside the Cleveland area, and she is the only one winning support from more than two-thirds of her own party's likely voters.

Republicans are doing a much better job of locking up their political support base, the poll shows - they all have support from at least three out of every four members of their own party.

Among those respondents who consider themselves independents, Republicans lead in every race.

The closest race among independents is for treasurer, where Mr. Deters leads by nine points, but 4 in 10 say their minds are not yet made up in the race.

The election is Nov. 5.



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