Cincinnati Post - Dems: DeWine in trouble

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

(Cincinnati Post)WASHINGTON - Mike DeWine's name was nowhere on the ballot, but Democrats are still declaring Ohio's senior senator the big loser in Tuesday's special election.

Republican Jean Schmidt's narrow victory over Bush-bashing Democrat Paul Hackett in Ohio's 2nd Congressional District race is bad news for the GOP in general - and DeWine in particular, national Democrats say.

"After being blamed for his son's loss in the GOP primary, Mike DeWine last night watched as Democrat Paul Hackett exceeded expectations in this heavily Republican district," the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee trumpeted in a news release the morning after the election.

"If Ohio is a bellwether state for next year's midterm elections, things don't look too good for the Republicans.''

Or DeWine either, said Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic committee.

"If the Senate candidate performs in the rural counties the way Hackett did, and performs in line with expectations in the more Democratic parts of the state, then if you do the math, it adds up to being problematic for DeWine," Singer said.

Republicans, on the other hand, laugh at the notion that a special election in a seven-county congressional district might foreshadow a statewide Senate race.

"There is no correlation between what happens in a special election, where turnout is very low and you have circumstances that just aren't comparable to an election that happens on an Election Day in an election year," said Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

DeWine, a two-term senator from Cedarville, won't face voters at the ballot box until next year. But Democrats are going after him now because they see him as one of the Senate's most vulnerable Republicans.

In his last election, DeWine easily knocked off Democrat Ted Celeste by picking up 60 percent of the vote. A poll taken for the Democratic committee in late June showed that while his favorability rating remains a respectable 48 percent, only 37 percent of voters believe DeWine is doing a good job. Just 31 percent believe he should be re-elected, a five-point drop since February.

DeWine has angered some conservatives with his role in the bipartisan "Gang of 14," which brokered a compromise that preserved judicial filibusters, and his recent vote against legislation to shield gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits.

"Part of DeWine's problem is that he has tried to be all things to all people, and it's catching up with him," Singer said.

DeWine's aides declined to respond to the attacks. But other Republicans dismiss such talk as nothing but hooey designed to gin up interest in the race.

"You can already see the smear machines gearing up and the liberal special interest groups gearing up as they try to steer money into the race," Nick said.

If anything, DeWine's refusal to toe the party line on certain issues has shown that he has an independent streak and does what he thinks is best for Ohio, Nick said.

"He is one of the most respected members in the Republican caucus," Nick said. "He has a reputation for working on both sides of the aisle on some of the country's toughest issues. He is extremely effective."

As for his involvement in the "Gang of 14," DeWine's conservative critics should remember that the deal he brokered with other senators allowed some of President Bush's stalled judicial nominees to be confirmed, Nick said.

Republicans say they are confident about DeWine's standing with voters - so confident, in fact, that they haven't even done polling of their own to gauge his re-electability. "We've only polled in states that we are truly worried about," Nick said.

If DeWine is in so much trouble, Nick asked, why haven't any Democrats entered the race?

Singer said a candidate would step forward in the next few months. Ohio Reps. Sherrod Brown and Tim Ryan are among the Democrats reportedly thinking about running, but neither has formally entered the race.

Whoever the Democratic candidate may be, "it's a race we think we can win, and we are planning to make sure our candidate has the resources necessary to do so," Singer said.

And no matter how certain Republicans are that DeWine will be re-elected, "he's going to take this campaign seriously," Nick said.

Michael Collins is The Post's Washington bureau chief.


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