At age 66, Voinovich has been Ohio's premier Republican vote getter over the past quarter century. He has held public office almost continuously since 1966 starting with the state legislature, including eight years as mayor of Cleveland and eight years as governor. Since his election to the Senate in 1998, he has consistently voted the conservative line (including support for Bush's 2001 tax cut that was opposed by McCain). Why defy the party whip now on Bush's primary economic initiative? "I came here to do something about the deficit," he has explained.
Voinovich's role has been magnified by the difficulty in getting the contemporary Senate to act. He and his three Republican colleagues have opposed putting the Bush tax-cut numbers in a budget resolution that would make it possible for the Senate to vote for the tax bill itself without being threatened by a filibuster. Since this is only a procedural expedient to permit a vote, Republican partisans are particularly infuriated with Voinovich's dissent.
Nevertheless, the Bush White House's political premise is that the only bad incumbent Republican senator is a defeated one, and so has denied nothing to Voinovich. Treasury Secretary John Snow spent a full day campaigning for him in Ohio. Sen. Rick Santorum, chairman of the Senate Republican conference, is sponsoring an April 29 fund-raiser for him. They hope that if the tax cut comes before the Senate later this year on an up-or-down roll call, Voinovich would not deny Bush the potentially deciding vote.
The rub is that Voinovich's obstinacy, including denial of the president's personal plea, makes it politically uncomfortable to change later. The DSSC has announced a Voinovich Project to keep watch on and trumpet any inconstancy in his voting record.
Life is indeed difficult for the last deficit hawk. George Voinovich not only lacks a defined constituency but also any ideology beyond perpetuation of Herbert Hoover's misconception that high taxes can restore prosperity.