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Strickland faces heat over lack of debate in Toledo

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Gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland, left, state Sen. Teresa Fedor, and Mayor Carty Finkbeiner gathered for the opening of Mr. Strickland's Toledo headquarters.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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Ted Strickland opened his Toledo campaign office last night with an I-feel-your-pain moment, promising a crowd of supporters downtown that his Appalachian roots make him sensitive to concerns of the "other Ohio."

Some of Mr. Strickland's strongest local backers spent the day saying the opposite - that Mr. Strickland, the Democratic candidate for governor, and his Republican opponent Ken Blackwell slighted northwest Ohio this week by excluding it from their planned series of campaign debates.

Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, one of Mr. Strickland's campaign co-chairmen, called the decision a "snub" in a letter to the southern Ohio congressman and urged him to consider adding a Toledo debate to a schedule that includes Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Youngstown.

Mr. Finkbeiner wrote that northwest Ohio "was ground zero for the [2004] presidential campaign. These national candidates understood Toledo's importance in winning a statewide election. I find it amazing that our gubernatorial candidates do not."

Bob Reichert, chairman of the Lucas County Republican Party, called the move a "shame" but cautioned that debates rarely hold more than 300 or 400 attendees no matter where they are.

"Both candidates need to reach out to a lot more voters than that" in northwest Ohio, Mr. Reichert said.

A veteran Democratic strategist in Toledo, Jim Ruvolo, said Mr. Strickland missed an opportunity to highlight the controversy around former local GOP power broker Tom Noe, which has engulfed several Ohio Republicans.

"Clearly, the Democrats should want to debate here," Mr. Ruvolo said. "I think Blackwell wants to stay as far away as he can because he knows the questions that will come out here. They'll be about Noe."

Mr. Blackwell's spokesman, Carlo LoParo, said earlier in the day that Mr. Blackwell had no aversion to Toledo or anywhere else in Ohio.

Questioned after his speech, Mr. Strickland declined to say if he would support an additional Toledo debate, citing the closed nature of scheduling negotiations.

"I understand the disappointment" from Mr. Finkbeiner and others, Mr. Strickland said. "I don't take it personally. Campaigns are very complex efforts."

Some debate basics aren't solved yet. For example: Who will host the Cleveland forum, now that it appears the intended sponsors - the Dayton Daily News, Columbus Dispatch, and The Plain Dealer of Cleveland - will not meet the campaigns' demand to include an African-American owned newspaper with circulation in several Ohio cities, the Call & Post.

The Plain Dealer's editorial page director, Brent Larkin, said the newspapers have a four-year-old partnership and already agreed to change the debate's location, date, and topic to accommodate the campaigns. "We are extremely disappointed in the lack of leadership the candidates are showing on this issue," Mr. Larkin said.

Campaign representatives said they will likely keep that debate in Cleveland, possibly with a new sponsor. "That's the direction it's headed," said Gene Pierce, one of Mr. Blackwell's negotiators, "but never say never."

Contact Jim Tankersley at:

jtankersley@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.

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