COLUMBUS - A group of Democrats gathered outside a Republican-sponsored seminar for prospective GOP candidates yesterday and protested the state's rare-coin investment with Tom Noe, not that the 150 Republicans meeting at the downtown hotel noticed.
Surrounded by handmade signs portraying Republican state officials and Mr. Noe, who is accused of abusing the state's $50 million coin investment for personal benefit, as "bad apples" from the same tree, state Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island) criticized the intent of the seminar's ethics training.
"If the past is a prologue, obviously it's about not getting caught," said Mr. Redfern, the House Democratic leader.
Mr. Noe is being investigated and vilified by state Auditor Betty Montgomery and state Attorney General Jim Petro, politicians who received substantial donations from the prominent Republican fund-raiser after the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation contracted with him to invest in rare coins.
Gov. Bob Taft, a key beneficiary of Mr. Noe's largesse, claims to have been duped by the former chairman of the Ohio Turnpike Commission.
Assembled inside the Hyatt Regency, the Republicans were oblivious to the muggy noon protest.
"I had no idea there were protesters outside," said Ohio Republican Party spokesman Jason Mauk, who dismissed the 12-person protest as being staged for reporters.
The Republicans were holding their 17th annual campaign college, where potential candidates learn the basics of polling and managing the media.
The meeting was closed to the media.
Mr. Mauk said ethics has been a fundamental part of the meeting's curriculum for years and had not been introduced because of the revelations about Mr. Noe's suspect actions.
"We would challenge the Democrats to do the same," he said. "I'm not aware of an ethics component in their candidate training."
Opposite the Republican gathering in the hotel meeting room, girls dressed in their Sunday best held glossy headshots and waited for the interview portion of the National America Miss Ohio event, a pageant for preteens.
The pageant and the campaign seminar were both about winning, Mr. Mauk said.
Chris McNulty, the Ohio GOP's executive director, said the seminar was "one of the reasons why 65 percent of all county officials are Republican."
Mr. McNulty said the Democrats lose races because they wave signs when they should be developing a statewide infrastructure like the Republicans do.
"We're in here working with local candidates, doing the nuts and bolts," he said.
Columbus has become an epicenter of political strategy this weekend.
In addition to the Republican seminar, members of the Democratic Leadership Council convened for their National Conversation, an event that attracts hundreds of Democratic officials from across the country. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D., New York) is scheduled to address the gathering tomorrow.
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