Campaign 2006: The Battle for Ohio, Round Two

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Just as in 2004, this year's election might come down to what happens in Ohio. But two years later, that's about the only thing that remains the same. A corruption scandal that implicated Republican Governor Bob Taft has sunk his approval ratings to 19%, making him the second-lowest-ranked governor in the country, according to Survey USA. Another corruption scandal forced G.O.P. Congressman Bob Ney to plead guilty to charges of accepting free gifts and meals from lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He's not seeking reelection, putting his House seat in danger for Republicans. And that's not all the problems for the G.O.P. in Ohio. "You've got a national anti-Republican, anti-incumbent sentiment that wasn't there two years ago," says Peter Brown, who surveys Ohio races for the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Voters aren't happy about the economy, Iraq or President Bush here either. Even Neil Clark, a veteran G.O.P. lobbyist and former top Republican state senate official, says "The state is poised to have a very bad day for Republicans."

Democratic chances of winning key races here are so high that top officials are trying to guard against activists getting complacent. "There is a danger that we may be too overly confident that there is going to be change," said Susan Gwinn, chairman of the Athens County Democratic Party in southeastern Ohio. "That's my biggest concern. I think, frankly, tighter numbers for us at the top of the ticket would probably be more mobilizing. I've heard people who say, 'I am not going to give any more money to that person, because he is so far ahead." And Democrats remain worried that the G.O.P. will outperform them at getting voters to the polls, much as the Republican turnout operation helped defy the oddsmakers in 2004. Both Democrats and Republicans say a ballot initiative to allow slot machine casino gambling in the state may help to turn out conservatives who would oppose it, although liberals may show up to support a proposed minimum wage increase also on the ballot.

These Ohio races are critical. Democrats need 15 seats to win back the House, and three of their best chances are in Ohio. In the Senate, where they need six seats, this is a place where they could win one. And both parties want the governor on their side come 2008, when the Presidential election could again be decided here. Not surprisingly, each party is active in the state, and outside groups are heavily involved as well. Both the liberal and the conservative Chamber of Commerce have been running ads in the key races, and party operatives will be on the ground in the next few weeks. Here's a closer look at some of the key Ohio races:


Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) v. Senator Mike DeWine (R): This race will say a lot about how both parties will perform at the polls in 2006, and perhaps 2008 as well. That's because there's nothing particularly compelling about the personal stories of either one of these candidates; they're both career politicians — DeWine served in the state senate, the U.S. House and was lieutenant governor, while Brown was a longtime state representative and the Ohio secretary of state.

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