As goes Ohio...

Posted: Oct 03, 2004 12:00 AM

     CLEVELAND -- Jess Goode is a casually dressed, laconic young political professional toiling to deny George W. Bush Ohio's 20 electoral votes. Goode is getting help from Ohio Republicans, who disapprove of Democrats but seriously dislike each other.
    Goode worked for a Democratic congressman until becoming a state administrator of America Coming Together, a get-out-the-(Democratic)-vote organization funded by Virtuous Money. The $14.5 million that George Soros, the billionaire anti-Bush obsessive, has given to ACT is not the Sinful Money that liberal campaign finance reformers want to banish from politics.

     On a normal day, ACT is paying $8 to $10 an hour to 200 or so persons whose job -- Goode says most are doing it for the money, not because of political passion -- is to register likely Democratic voters, more than 60,000 so far. In 2000, Bush carried the state by 165,019 votes.

     In mid-October 2000, the Gore campaign went off the air in Ohio so it could spend elsewhere, especially in Florida. Election eve polls showed him losing badly, but the margin was only 3.5 percent. The polls had not properly identified ``likely" voters. The uncertain effectiveness of ACT, and of both parties' machinery for getting their voters to the polls, makes polling this year particularly problematic.

     Another Ohio uncertainty is the fallout from fierce fighting among Republican factions and their gubernatorial candidates for 2006. One candidate to succeed Gov. Bob Taft, who is term-limited, is Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, an African- American who in 2000 supported Steve Forbes' presidential candidacy.

     Blackwell says that in the 1990s an average of 1,000 Americans moved from a high-tax state to a low-tax state every day, and today, every 24 hours 250 Ohioans become Floridians. He says Ohio's 71 percent increase in spending led all states over the last 10 years. He is furious that Taft and the Republican-controlled Legislature, collaborating with public employees unions and violating repeated promises to submit such increases to a referendum, passed a $3 billion tax increase. This included a 20 percent increase in the sales tax, which was annoyingly broadened to apply to such things as manicures and satellite television.        

     Since 2000, Ohio leads the nation in losing persons 14-to-44 -- ``the drivers of growth" -- and Blackwell says ``we're in an economic death cycle," with tax increases fueling the spending spree. If Bush loses Ohio, that will be because the state lost so many jobs while it moved, under Taft, from 14th to third on the Tax Foundation's list of states with the worst state and local tax burdens.

     Ohio's Appalachian southeast leans Democratic, but Bush ran well there in 2000, partly because of guns and other social issues, which this year include same-sex marriage. There is an ongoing duel in the courts to determine whether a proposed amendment to the state constitution, defining marriage as between a man and a woman, will be on the November ballot. It would pull conservatives to the polls.

     Republicans may need that. Because Taft roils Republicans, he is an uncertain asset for Bush, and because Blackwell vociferously objects to Taft, Blackwell says ``they (the Bush campaign) use me out of state more than in the state."

     In Ohio, where the ideological heat is largely among rival Republicans, Goode and ACT are manifestations of relative political ``normalcy," a word with an Ohio pedigree. It was inserted into America's vernacular by a small-town Ohio newspaper editor turned U.S. senator. In 1920 Warren Harding was elected president by promising Americans, who were weary of war and attempts to universalize democratic values, a return to normalcy.

     Michael Barone, author of The Almanac of American Politics, says Ohio, the 17th state, is ``an epitome of American normalcy." As well it should be because it was, Barone says, ``the first entirely American state." The original 13 had been British colonies and the next three -- Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee -- were created from their claimed territories.

     In the 1930s and 1940s, Ohio was the cockpit of America's ideological conflict, as Ohio Sen. Robert Taft succeeded, with the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, in limiting the power of organized labor that had grown muscular in struggles to unionize Ohio's auto, steel and tire factories. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio.

     As the nation navigates a dangerous epoch, its choice of the next president, who might have to deal with Iran acquiring nuclear weapons and North Korea selling them, might turn on a sales tax increase in Ohio.

Good grief.