Ohio Supreme Court Race, Presidential Contest Spotlighted

 

No Republican has been elected President this past century without winning Ohio. Combine that factoid with Ohio having the seventh largest block of electoral votes and it's no wonder that Democrat Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush keep visiting the Buckeye State.

Most statewide polls give Bush the edge, but they also show Gore picking up momentum. Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown, and Akron in the northern half of the state are prime Gore territory. Columbus, Cincinnati, and Appalachian Ohio generally tilt Republican.

So analysts are watching swing areas around Dayton, Canton, and some Appalachian counties in the southeast as possible bellwethers, since they shifted toward Reagan during the 1980s and came back to Clinton in the 1990s.

If the race is especially close in Ohio, Ralph Nader could play a spoiler role. He makes it clear he doesn't care if he takes votes from Gore and helps Bush win. In his visits to Ohio, he's called Gore a liar and a sellout to corporate polluters.

Republicans currently control the governor's office, the Supreme Court and the Legislature. But that's no guarantee Bush will carry Ohio. Even though the GOP dominated state government in 1996, Democrat Bill Clinton still carried Ohio.

In the House of Representatives all 99 seats are up for grabs Nov. 7. So are 16 of the 33 Senate seats. But since Republicans have drawn the legislative district boundaries to give themselves an advantage, they're expected to easily maintain their wide majorities in both chambers.

Surprisingly, a race for the Supreme Court seat may generate the most controversy. Analysts are predicting as much as $8 million may be spent on a contest pitting incumbent Democrat Alice Robie Resnick against Republican challenger Terrence O'Donnell, who's an Appeals Court judge.

Resnick provided a key vote in two well-publicized court decisions. One knocked down limits on damage awards in civil lawsuits, while the other declared Ohio's method of funding schools unconstitutional. Angered that caps weren't placed on damage awards, business and insurance groups are trying to knock off Resnick.

Anti-tax activists have also organized against Resnick, charging that if the ruling on school funding stands, it could force legislators to approve a multibillion dollar tax increase.

Resnick's prime supporters are trial lawyers and unions that approved of her vote on lawsuit awards. Education activists are also in her corner.

The Supreme Court election is being cited as a prime example of how judgeship races are often driven by big money and punctuated by TV attack commercials.

On the congressional side, one race is drawing national attention as well as significant out-of-state funding. It's the race to see who will replace central Ohio Rep. John Kasich, a Republican who's chairman of the House Budget Committee and is leaving politics after 18 years in Congress.Columbus City Councilwoman Maryellen O'Shaughnessy is putting up the Democrats' strongest challenge in Kasich's district in nearly two decades, but Republican state representative Pat Tiberi has the edge to succeed Kasich for two reasons.

Namely, because Kasich's district has been solidly Republican for 38 of the past 40 years and because the popular Kasich has cut TV spots endorsing Tiberi.

U.S. Senator Mike DeWine is expected to win comfortably in his re-election bid. His challenger, Ted Celeste, is the brother of former Ohio governor Richard Celeste. However, Ted Celeste has had trouble identifying an key issue, or raising enough money, to seriously challenge DeWine.

Polls have shown him anywhere from 20 to 30 points ahead of Celeste.

Only one statewide issue appears on the Ohio ballot. If passed, it will let Ohio borrow $400 million to help communities buy land for parks, nature preserves, bikeways, and walking trails. The money would also be earmarked for cleaning up abandoned, polluted industrial sites.

Manufacturers and most environmental groups have endorsed the ballot issue. So have most state legislators.

The `Vote Yes' drive is being led by Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican and former Democratic U.S. Senator John Glenn and is expected to pass.

Bill Cohen is bureau chief of the Ohio Public Radio/TV Statehouse News Bureau.

 
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