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Taft, Hagan fight close battle



Published: Thu, September 5, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Democratic challenger said he expects to win big in the Mahoning Valley.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

LORDSTOWN -- If nothing else, Gov. Bob Taft isn't overestimating his support in the Mahoning Valley.

Despite helping to ensure that General Motors, the Valley's largest employer, continues to operate in Lordstown by offering the largest tax incentive to a company in the state's history, Taft says he will not guarantee victory in this area come Nov. 5.

"Who knows?" Taft said when asked if he will carry the Mahoning Valley on Election Day. "It's a tough area, but I've worked very hard and reached out to the people [of the Valley]. When I took office, I didn't take an oath to be a Republican or a Democrat. I took an oath to work for all people and that's what I've tried to do."

Challenger

Taft, a Republican, is facing Democrat Tim Hagan, who was born and reared in the Democratic-dominated Mahoning Valley, in the November election.

Most Republican state office candidates hope to put up respectable numbers -- percentiles of middle to upper 40s -- in the Valley. Republicans who win a majority of the Valley's vote usually are huge winners statewide. Statewide Democratic candidates repeatedly say they cannot win in Ohio without overwhelming support from Valley voters.

Hagan said he has tremendous confidence that not only will he win by a large majority in the Valley, but he will post his best numbers in the state in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

"I will win the Valley big; it's absolutely essential that I do and I will," he said. "I assume the people of the Valley will vote for one of their own."

Campaign stop

But Taft is doing everything he can to sway Valley voters to support him. As part of a 10-city, three-day campaign swing around the state, Taft stopped Wednesday at Lear Corp. in Lordstown. Lear makes seats for vehicles produced at the Lordstown GM facility and employs 380 workers at the local plant.

Three weeks after participating in the announcement that GM was staying in Lordstown, and that the state was giving the company a $63 million incentive package, Taft was greeted with a hero's welcome at Lear.

"We've worked very hard the last four years for the Mahoning Valley's economy," Taft said, specifically citing GM as well as working with Delphi Packard Electric Systems and the Youngstown Business Incubator. "The Mahoning Valley needs good partnership from the state and that's why I've been here so often."

Taft has made the Valley a frequent stop, visiting the area three times in the past three weeks.

Hagan, who will make a campaign stop today in Youngstown, said Taft "foolishly thinks he can convince the people of the Valley that he is sensitive to their concerns" by coming here often.

Response on GM

Hagan also said it was the "height of chutzpah" for Taft to take any credit for keeping GM in Lordstown because anyone in the governor's shoes would have done the same things to not lose the automotive company.

Hagan said he is amazed at how proud Taft is that GM is staying in Lordstown because there will be a significant reduction in the company's local employment level.

Polls conducted in recent weeks show Taft, who has more than $8 million in his campaign war chest, leading Hagan, who has a $375,060 campaign fund balance and cannot afford to run television advertisements, by only single digits.

Also Wednesday, Hagan announced a plan to lessen the state's budget crisis calling for placing video gambling in racetracks, ending some tax breaks for businesses, cutting funding for most state agencies by 15 percent, and providing local property tax relief.

Earlier this year, Taft closed some tax break loopholes and cut funding to state agencies.

Taft is strongly opposed to putting video gambling machines at the state's seven racetracks. "It's a big gamble to balance the budget with casinos. It's a risky proposition."

skolnick@vindy.com




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