Ohio -- the state at the center of 2004's presidential race --
will be the battleground of several key races again in 2006.
The state's lagging economy and a series of scandals plaguing
the ruling Republican Party have opened the door for Democrats
to attack the Republican "culture of corruption" in races that
will focus as much on national as local issues.
The economy and education will be major campaign topics in the
coming months. Candidates in Ohio have vowed to improve the state's
education system and create a stronger job market -- the U.S.
Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked Ohio 47th for job growth in
The war in Iraq will play more of a role in the Senate race,
where senior Sen. Mike DeWine, R, faces a tough re-election campaign
against Democrat Rep. Sherrod Brown.
Republicans control all elected statewide offices and both DeWine
and Sen. George Voinovich are Republican.
This, according to Ohio State University professor Herb Asher,
will be negative for Republican candidates, "in the sense that
they control everything, they're who's responsible for a poor
economy. It's hard to find Democrats to blame because they've
been irrelevant in the governing process."
In the 109th U.S. Congress, Ohio Republicans hold 12 seats to
the Democrats' six. Ohio lost a congressional seat after the 2000
census and the state redistricted in 2002 with a plan that boosted
the Republican majority from 11-8 to the current 12-6.
Ohio's General Assembly is currently solidly Republican -- 22
Republicans to 11 Democrats in the Senate and 60 Republicans to
39 Democrats in the House -- and is not expected to change hands
have held the governor's mansion since 1991 but Democrats hope
to take advantage of scandals surrounding current Gov. Bob Taft.
Last August, Taft was convicted of four criminal ethics charges
for failing to disclose golf outings and other gifts he received
worth more than $75 and was fined $4,000, according to the Columbus
Dispatch. He pleaded no contest.
In October 2005 a Dispatch poll found that Taft's approval rating
was 15 percent, lower than any state governor's approval rating
in the last 15 years. Taft's polls have risen slightly since then
but have cast a shadow over the state's Republicans.
The ethics charges against Taft grew out of an investigation
into bad investments of state funds in a scandal known as Coingate.
The Toledo Blade broke the story last year that Tom Noe, a well-connected
Republican fundraiser, invested money from the Ohio Bureau of
Workers' Compensation funds in rare coins under Taft's watch and
cannot account for up to $13 million, according to the Columbus
Noe was charged with 53 felony counts for his involvement in
the investments. The ongoing investigation has not revealed what
happened to the missing money.
In May, Noe pleaded guilty to all three federal counts of money
laundering after illegally paying for his friends to attend a
fund-raising event for President Bush, raising about $45,000 for
the president's re-election campaign.
In a separate scandal, Rep. Bob Ney, a Republican who represents
Ohio's 18th District and is running for re-election in 2006, is
reported to be "Representative No. 1" in the congressional corruption
investigation into Jack Abramoff, the lobbyist who pleaded guilty
to conspiracy and fraud charges earlier this year. Ney has not
been indicted in the investigation.
Republicans and Democrats, meanwhile, are gearing up for Ohio's
competitive races. The saying, "As goes Ohio, so goes the nation"
has proved true in recent presidential contests, with both parties
making the Buckeye State a major focus of their 2004 campaigns
as they channeled money into the state and initiated voter registration
President George W. Bush won Ohio by 118,000 votes in 2004 and
its 20 electoral votes helped him defeat Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
After the 2004 election, Ohio newspapers reported accounts of
irregularities involving the state's electronic voting machines
and long lines for voters in heavily Democratic areas, some of
whom never had the chance to cast their ballots before polls closed.
Issue 1, a referendum to amend Ohio's Constitution to ban gay
marriage, was credited with successfully drawing conservative
voters to the polls. The referendum passed 62 percent to 38 percent
and President Bush carried the state with 51 percent to Kerry's
49 percent. In 2000, 50 percent of the vote went to Mr. Bush compared
to Democrat Al Gore's 46 percent and 3 percent for Ralph Nader
of the Green Party.
Moral values and the war on terrorism topped voter concerns in
2004, beating economic issues, even in counties with the largest
percentage of job losses, according to the National Journal's
Almanac of American Politics.
Gearing up for the 2006 races, President Bush has made Ohio a
frequent destination to campaign for Republican candidates, while
high-profile Democrats such as Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York
and former Sen. John Edwards of Massachusetts have visited on
behalf of Democratic candidates.
From the beginning, Ohio was never a homogenous state, politically
or culturally. Historically, the state is divided with a Democratic
voting bloc in the northeast where the influences of steel, tire
and auto unions still remain and the southwest, which remains
heavily Republican and more politically active than the rest of
the state, according to the Almanac.
Established as a state in 1787, the first from the Northwest
Territory, Ohio became a leading industrial area after the Civil
War and the home of steel mills, soap companies, machine makers,
tire manufacturers and glass producers.
Until the Great Depression, Republicans gained the votes of Ohio's
industrial cities until pushes from auto, steel and tires unions
in Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown and Toledo swung toward the Democrats.
Cincinnati and Ohio's capitol Columbus remained Republican. In
2000 and 2004, President Bush lost in the northeast but won easily
both years in the southwest.
Ohioans will vote on several ballot issues in the fall, including
a push to raise Ohio's minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.85 an hour
that Democrats hope will draw voters to the polls much as the
gay marriage amendment boosted conservative turnout in 2004.
Another issue promoted by Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell,
the Republican candidate for governor, would limit spending and
taxes. A statewide smoking ban and issues to permit casino gambling
also may appear on the ballot.