This week's cover story on Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell unofficially kicks off CityBeat's 2006 election coverage. Over the next 10 weeks or so, expect to see lots of news stories about the candidates and ballot issues you'll be facing in the voting booth on Nov. 7.
Of course, you've already read plenty of election news in the paper this summer, from our recent cover story on Hamilton County Commissioner Phil Heimlich's use of the jail expansion issue as a re-election campaign tactic to Moveon.org's appearance with local Democrats in this week's Porkopolis column (page 17). Covering government and public officials is one of CityBeat's core missions, so there's some kind of political news here almost every week.
But the next few months will be different. It's crunch time.
The major players have been waging primary election battles, raising money and courting support from party regulars. Hundreds of people armed with petitions have roamed the streets getting signatures for ballot initiatives. You might have seen a TV ad here and there, maybe some fliers in your mailbox.
And now the campaigns start to come into focus, as the general public begins to finally pay attention. Hang on, because the media blitz is about to be unleashed.
Those of us living in Ohio are particularly lucky this year, as we'll be buried in an avalanche of national political attention since Ohio is The Most Important State in the Union. With two competitive big-time races -- for governor and senator -- the national political parties, special interest groups and media will be all over us.
The feeling is that the results of those two races will greatly impact the presidential election in 2008, what with Ohio's proclivity for helping decide national cliff-hangers. So no stone will be left unturned and no dollar left unspent this fall.
Pity the poor folks in Northern Kentucky, who have to withstand the TV, radio and newspaper campaign ads in Cincinnati media without being able to vote for any of those candidates. At least they don't have to deal with the mailers, the door knob hangers, the phone calls, the yard signs, the people on their front steps and the town hall meetings from Blackwell, Strickland, DeWine, Brown, et al
They have their own elections, so I doubt they'll really be missing any of that.
CityBeat will help you navigate this election season by cutting through the crap and the spin to provide a good overview of the important races. In upcoming issues, look for coverage of the area's three congressional races (1st and 2nd districts in Ohio and 4th in Kentucky); Blackwell vs. Ted Strickland for governor; Sen. Mike DeWine's re-election bid vs. Sherrod Brown; Ohio's 1st District Court of Appeals; Heimlich vs. David Pepper and other Hamilton County elections; the religious right's effort to repeal Cincinnati's Human Rights Ordinance; statewide ballot initiatives such as slot machine gambling, raising the minimum wage and a smoking ban; and other statewide races in Ohio, including secretary of state.
Look for the paper's endorsements in many of these races toward the end of October, followed by our widely anticipated "Who's Endorsing Whom" charts Nov. 1 that consolidate editorial picks from the media, political action committees and public service groups. As part of our commitment to help educate voters, CityBeat will again publish the League of Women Voters' election guide in one of our October issues.
This week's Blackwell profile also begins a formal statewide election collaboration with the alt weekly papers in Cleveland and Athens. Each paper will be publishing this Blackwell story as well as lengthy profiles of Brown (from Cleveland Free Times) and Strickland (from The Athens News).
Last year around this time CityBeat finished up a series of three cover story profiles of the leading candidates for Cincinnati mayor, Mark Mallory, David Pepper and Alicia Reece. I felt (and still feel) that those profiles -- which focused on the life experiences of these people instead of their positions on the big issues -- provided readers with critical information that wasn't available anywhere else. It was some of the best journalism we've ever produced.
The stories certainly helped me decide who I was going to vote for. In the very least they fleshed out these politicians in three dimensions by delving into their formative y ears and experiences, their families and their work lives.
Now we move up the political ladder to three more candidates, starting with Blackwell, who grew up, attended college and got his political career going in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, he decided not to participate in our profile, which leaves the story lacking some of the personal reflection we strive for.
I get the sense that Blackwell is one of those public officials who thinks we'll go away and leave him alone if he ignores us long enough. He clearly is avoiding the media, an ironic stance considering that on the night of his primary victory over Jim Petro he announced, "Message to Brother Strickland: You can run, but you can't hide."
But we can't and won't ignore such a key candidate in a key race in a key state in a key year. You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again between now and Nov. 7: This is the most important election in your lifetime.
A victory by Strickland would break the complete stranglehold Republicans have on Ohio government and perhaps tip Ohio for the Democrats in 2008. A victory by Blackwell would move the state even farther to the right, backing him with solid GOP majorities in both houses of the legislature.
DeWine's seat is one of those needed by each side if it hopes to be the majority party in the U.S. Senate.
(By the way, before anyone asks, we're not running a cover story profile of DeWine because he's the incumbent and must be judged solely on his record. The other three major candidates this fall -- along with the three mayoral candidates last year -- don't hold the offices they seek.)
Let the fun and games begin. And let the truth set you free.
Contact john fox: jfox(at)citybeat.com