Ohio GOP finds an energizing issue

By Bertram de Souza

Four years ago, the Republican Party secured victory in Ohio for President Bush by tossing out red meat to its faithful in the form of a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The GOP’s campaign across the state for passage of the amendment could be described thus: If you don’t vote yes, the wrong type of people will flood into Ohio.

Thoughtless voters not only bought the pitch hook, line and sinker, but while they were in the voting booth cast a ballot for Bush, who was portrayed as the champion of good marriage — as opposed to what “those homos” are involved in. Bush’s victory in Ohio gave him a second term in office.

This year, it seemed for a while that the Republicans had run out of red meat. The ballot issue they thought would bring out their voters — a constitutional amendment that would have forced businesses to provide employees with paid sick leave — was withdrawn. The other statewide issues on the Nov. 4 general election ballot have bipartisan support — or opposition.

Nothing the Republicans were saying had the same impact as the war cry they used four years ago about gays and lesbians coming to Ohio to take advantage of public services if the marriage amendment failed. The amendment was adopted with votes to spare.

Negative impact

The state GOP rode the issue to election day 2004 despite warnings from then Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, and such important business leaders as the chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble that embracing such a bone-headed initiative could dissuade highly qualified researchers and academics from coming to the state.

The GOP calculated, correctly it turned out, that many voters who might not have gone to the polls because Bush hadn’t exactly blazed the campaign trail showed up in numbers that Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and his advisers had not anticipated.

So, what has the Republican Party found this year in Ohio that could have the same effect on the faithful that the so-called marriage amendment had four years ago? The stunt could be described in the terms used earlier: Beware, the wrong kind of people are casting ballots.

At issue is the aggressive voter registration campaign that has been going on since January. About 660,000 Ohioans have registered to vote, with many doing so before the contested Democratic presidential election last March, according to the Associated Press.

The primary featured U.S. Sen. Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton. While Clinton won Ohio and all the other major states, Obama secured the party nomination by pursuing a nationwide strategy for delegates. With 16 days to the election, he appears to have the edge against Republican John McCain.

Hence, the GOP’s worry. Party officials in Ohio have concluded that a majority of the new registrants will vote Democratic; they have filed a series of challenges of the registrations.

The Republicans have also sought to blame Ohio’s Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, for what they contend are truckloads of illegal registrations. (On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed Brunner a victory when it ruled that Republicans’ demands for extraordinary reviews of the new registrations were unnecessary.)

Unsubstantiated allegations

Independent organizations that monitor elections contend that the likelihood of illegal ballots being counted is very low because there are systems in place designed to weed out the bad ones. Nonetheless, Republicans are tossing out allegations in an attempt to taint the election.

Here’s GOP Chairman Bob Bennett’s characterization: Brunner is destroying the public’s trust in Ohio’s elections system.

“Her shameful actions to disenfranchise Republican absentee voters, block the transparency of early voting and refuse the proper verification of newly registered voters have rightfully damaged her credibility as a nonpartisan election administrator,” Bennett said.

There, the GOP has found the gay issue for this year.

The message is clear: Republicans had better come out in droves on Nov. 4, or else the wrong type of people will determine the outcome of the election in Ohio. (Psst! They’re all voting for that black man.)

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