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Will area deliver for Dems?

Published: Sun, October 24, 2010 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

With the Ohio governor’s race in the “too close to call” category, the predominantly Democratic Mahoning and Trumbull counties have become ground zero for Ted Strickland’s re-election bid.

Although the Republican nominee, John Kasich, has led in just about every poll, the latest ones show the race to be a dead heat. That has energized the state Democratic Party, which is looking to this area to lead the final surge to the Nov. 2 general election.

In order for a Democrat to win statewide, he must come out of Mahoning and Trumbull counties with at least 60 percent of the vote. The larger the margin of victory in this heavily Democratic part of the state, the better the candidate’s chances of overcoming the opponent’s advantage in the Republican strongholds.

But this year, with Strickland fighting for his political life, the Ohio Democratic Party is pushing for a record-breaking vote in the Valley.

Enthusiasm gap

It’s a tall order, given that the polls have consistently shown Republicans around the country to be much more enthusiastic this year than Democrats.

But, the enthusiasm gap that has received so much press attention does not seem to apply across the board. Consider early voting. While it has been widely believed that Republicans have the advantage nationally with absentee ballot applications, here’s what Hotline, the political Internet site, said recently about Ohio:

“But not all states are seeing a big surge of Republican voters. In Ohio, Democrats have requested and returned absentee ballots at a higher rate than have Republicans, and more Democrats have voted early in person. According to the state Democratic Party’s totals, five times more infrequent-voting Democrats have turned out than Republicans, an indication that the party’s turnout efforts are working.”

It’s against this back drop that the chairmen of the Democratic parties in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, David Betras and Daniel Polivka, are being urged to pull out all the stops to ensure a huge turnout election day.

Mahoning County, in particular, is seen as the key to Strickland’s reelection and the success of Democratic candidates in other statewide races.

There are about 180,000 registered voters in Mahoning: Approximately 79,000 confirmed Democrats and 44,000 who identify with the Democratic Party; 15,000 confirmed Republicans, with another 10,000 who are considered to be in the GOP camp; and, 32,000 undeclared, independent or third party members.

Given the intensity of this election, a turnout of about 60 percent is possible.

And therein lies the challenge for Betras and the Mahoning County Democratic organization: To deliver more than 70 percent to Strickland and the rest of the ticket.

Last fall, in the midst of a very different political environment, Betras publicly told Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern that he would ensure a landslide victory for Strickland with 80 percent of the vote.

But as the national economic recession caused most states to experience huge job losses, the people blamed Democratic President Barack Obama and the Democratic controlled Congress. (The recession began in the latter part of 2008 when Republican George W. Bush was in the White House.)

In Ohio, Republicans led by Kasich, succeeded in portraying Strickland and the Democrats as the cause of the double-digit jobless rate and the other hardships brought on by the recession.

Eighty percent of the vote for the governor is beyond the realm of possibilities, but 70-plus percent?

2006 election

Four years ago, Strickland garnered 75.6 percent in Mahoning against Republican J. Kenneth Blackwell. That same year, Sherrod Brown got 73.4 percent in his victory over U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, a Republican.

In the 2008 presidential election, Obama captured 62.3 percent of the vote in Mahoning County.

In other words, the 70 percent threshold can be met, but it will take a ground game similar to the one launched by Obama’s presidential campaign. The turnout in 2008 in Mahoning County was 72 percent.

Former President Bill Clinton, one of the most popular politicians in the country today, will energize the Democratic Party faithful when he attends the pre-election breakfast Saturday at Mr. Anthony’s banquet hall.

Clinton’s visit is a coup for Betras.

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