Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pugnacious or pragmatic? Social issues could decide which Gov. John Kasich emerges in 2013: Analysis

Ohioans will see one of two John Kasichs next year.

It could be the pugnacious governor of 2011 -- the guy who bullied people to get on his bus or get run over.

More likely it will be the chastened governor of 2012 -- the kinder soul who emerged as Kasich softened his image.

But at times he might be tempted to be a little bit of both, and therein lies his dilemma.

A Republican believed by many to harbor White House ambitions, Kasich will have far fewer prospects on the national stage if he fails to win a second term in 2014. So the last thing he wants on his desk is legislation governing women's reproductive rights. Vetoing a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected might earn him re-election points from independents but estrange him from voters key to winning GOP presidential primaries.

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Electing black statewide officeholders remains elusive milestone for Democrats in Ohio

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- For Ohio Democrats, a streak of confounding futility continued this month, lost amid presidential politics and the more obvious nuances of a Supreme Court shakeup.

Never has the party elected a black candidate to statewide office.

Justice Yvette McGee Brown became the latest failure, losing by double digits her bid to remain on the court. As had been the case for past black Democrats, not even the head start of a midterm appointment could help her change history.

The long record of defeat stands out in a state where most voters supported the election and re-election of the nation's first black president, Democrat Barack Obama. It stands out especially when factoring in victories by rival Republicans who, despite their larger deficiencies among minority voters, have elected blacks to statewide office five times.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Frank Russo slinks into prison, closing a haunted chapter in Cuyahoga County politics: Analysis

LORETTO, Pa. -- Through the outskirts of this quiet borough runs the Ghost Town Trail.

What better mile marker for the final stretch of Frank Russo's route to federal prison?

Russo slunk without a trace Friday into the low-security Federal Correctional Institution, an out-of-character end for a crooked politician who once craved the spotlight. Known for plastering his smiling face on gas pumps and grocery scales, he dared not show it as he crossed the threshold.

The former county auditor, who swindled Cuyahoga County taxpayers for at least a decade, arrived before noon. He escaped notice of the half-dozen Cleveland journalists who made the 200-mile trek but were required by prison officials to remain across the street.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

What now, Ohio? Unlocking the soul of the battleground voter, one cold one at a time: Analysis

My search for real Steubenville voters took me to the Spot Bar.

Local hangout, the guy at the electronics warehouse told me. Lots of opinions.

I arrived about 6 p.m. on a June weeknight, found an empty stool and asked the bartender for a Miller Lite. As he fetched a bottle from the cooler I told him who I was and what I was doing there and asked if he minded me bothering a few of his customers.

No problem, he said. "You'll definitely want to talk to Frank and George."

I came for the parochial insight. Frank and George offered so much more. They showed me the evolving soul of the Ohio voter.

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

President Barack Obama wins second term, calls for unity: 'We rise and fall together as one nation'

Written with Stephen Koff

President Barack Obama won a second term Tuesday, defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a fiercely competitive election that tested the nation's patience for change.

Networks called the race for Obama after declaring him the winner of Ohio's 18 prized electoral votes.

At 2 a.m. today, with roughly 98 percent of Buckeye State ballots counted, Obama led Romney by more than 100,000 votes. He also had scored wins in key battlegrounds such as Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin.

Obama, a former U.S. senator from Illinois, addressed supporters in Chicago about 1:30 a.m.

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Sunday, November 4, 2012

From the primaries to Portmania, 5 events that shaped the presidential race in Ohio: Analysis

Come Tuesday, the visits will stop, and all eyes will turn to America's preeminent bellwether, which has picked the winner of every presidential election since 1964.

As Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney enter their final 48 hours on the stump, the contours of the race look different than they did in January.

There have been plenty of mistakes, like all those times Vice President Joe Biden forgot which state he was in or when Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan confused Browns starting quarterback Brandon Weeden with backup Colt McCoy. There were other moments that seemed fateful, like when Romney said he liked "being able to fire people" or when Obama said the private sector was "doing fine." But neither remark will be looked back on as a mortal wound.

In Ohio, five events shaped the race into what it is now and how it might end.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Candidates and their surrogates blitz the Buckeye State on final weekend before Election Day

With reporting by Brandon Blackwell, Dave Davis, Rachel Dissell, James Ewinger, Laura Johnston, Stephen Koff and Peter Krouse

In the final weekend of a campaign season that has placed Ohio precisely at the center of the political universe, the stars aligned Saturday for a frenetic crush of barnstorming that will continue across the state until Election Day.

President Barack Obama made a stop in Mentor -- his last scheduled visit to the Cleveland area before Tuesday's vote. U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, stumped downstate in Marietta. In Ohio's high-voltage U.S. Senate race, incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown hit three cities. Meanwhile his GOP opponent, State Treasurer Josh Mandel, rallied with Ryan and joined a bus tour with U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of the Cincinnati area.

The first and second ladies hit the trail, too. Michelle Obama held events at Miami University in Oxford and Kenyon College in Gambier. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, met with supporters and volunteers at the re-election campaign's Parma field office.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan feed off Americana vibe at rally in North Canton

NORTH CANTON, Ohio — An autumn chill. Live country music. A sea of blue jeans and ball caps flowing into nearby neighborhoods.

Lately Mitt Romney's outdoor rallies in Ohio have taken on a distinct feel, sound and look as his crowds grow in size and the weather lends itself to a high school football atmosphere.

The Republican nominee for president feeds off this Americana vibe, and Friday night at Hoover High School was no exception. An audience of 8,500 gathered around the school's baseball diamond to hear Romney and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan.

Supporters left with blasts of fireworks -- and blasts at President Barack Obama -- ringing in their ears.

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Early voting adds intensity and pageantry to the Obama and Romney ground games in Ohio

On Tuesday, the first day, Mitt Romney dispatched a bus filled with phone-banking volunteers to southwest Ohio. Meanwhile, the first lady stumped for her husband in Cincinnati.

On the second day, President Barack Obama sent a bus, this one carrying a couple of Democratic surrogates who collected students at Oberlin College and Baldwin Wallace University and drove them to county boards of elections.

On the third, Romney called to thank a local canvasser who knocked on the campaign's millionth door in Ohio.

On the fourth, the Romney phone bank on wheels reached the northeast corner of the state. And Obama, fresh off his first debate with the Republican challenger, flew in for a rally at Cleveland State University's soccer field.

This is presidential politics, battleground-style, in the age of early voting.

You thought "The 12 Days of Christmas" was a whirlwind of festive excess? Multiply that by three, then add Air Force One, a few well-appointed buses and an army of raw-knuckled, clipboard-toting field workers. In Ohio this year, the 35 days of early voting have injected unrestrained intensity and pageantry into the ground games of both campaigns.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney talk infrastructure in Plain Dealer interviews

No one campaigns against infrastructure.

No one really campaigns on it, either.

In battleground Ohio, a state getting more attention than most this election season, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney fill their stump speeches with talk of cars or coal or trade with China. They say little, if anything, about the roads those cars travel, the bridges that coal crosses and the ports through which those goods pass.

While the nation's crumbling urban core might not be a bumper-sticker issue in the race for the White House, any big-city mayor or planner will tell you that aging infrastructure poses a long-term economic threat to metropolitan areas.

In the industrial Midwest that is key to electoral victory, the threat is pronounced in places like Cleveland.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Plain Dealer interview with President Barack Obama: A warning about embarrassing China

KENT, Ohio — President Barack Obama, addressing the increasing concerns over China's alleged currency manipulation and other foreign trade violations, said this week that the United States must push back against unfair practices but not "go out of our way to embarrass" the country.

Doing so would risk "an all-out trade war," Obama told The Plain Dealer in an exclusive interview.

"What we have found is that when we push them very hard but we don't go out of our way to embarrass them, we get results," he said while meeting with the newspaper's editorial board before a Wednesday rally at Kent State University.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Plain Dealer interview with Mitt Romney: State of the race, coal and autos

WESTERVILLE, Ohio – As a new poll showed him slipping further behind President Barack Obama in the electoral battleground of Ohio, Mitt Romney remained optimistic Wednesday that independent voters who swung Democrat four years ago will carry the state for him.

"Ohio voted for Barack Obama the last time, so I've got to get people who voted for him the last time to vote for me this time," the Republican presidential nominee told The Plain Dealer in an interview aboard his campaign bus.

Romney, speaking to the newspaper after appearing at a morning rally in this Columbus suburb, added that independents across the country have "the conviction that they don't want four more years like the last four years."

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

President Obama tells Democratic National Convention he's 'never been more hopeful about America'

Written with Plain Dealer reporter Sabrina Eaton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — President Barack Obama accepted his nomination for a second term Thursday, the final act of a Democratic National Convention that aimed to recapture the enthusiasm of 2008 and draw a sharp contrast with Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Obama presented himself as a compassionate leader, one trying to untangle the country from an economic recession while bringing people together to achieve new goals.

He also punctuated a three-day barrage of attacks on Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, equating a vote for the GOP ticket as a vote for past failed policies.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mitt Romney tells Republican National Convention crowd that 'Now is the time to restore the promise of America'

Written with Plain Dealer Washington Bureau Chief Stephen Koff

TAMPA, Fla. -- Casting the United States as a failing company and himself as a turnaround artist, Mitt Romney accepted the Republican presidential nomination here Thursday night by asking voters to hire him to repair a broken economy.

It's a metaphor familiar to anyone who has followed his pursuit of the White House.

But as he stood on stage at the Republican National Convention, Romney tailored his words to a prime-time television audience of millions, many tuning in to the race for the first time. He also played to a jubilant crowd of GOP activists who, after a steady diet of red meat all week, were hungry for even more bites at President Barack Obama.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kasich takes stage at GOP convention, talks of progress in Ohio

TAMPA, Fla. -- Ohio Gov. John Kasich returned to the national stage Tuesday night, a dozen years after his last speech at a Republican National Convention.

And try as he might to downplay the political calculus, his remarks on economic revival in a battleground state might be more helpful to his future than to Mitt Romney's.

A year ago, who would have thought that Kasich, stymied by sub-40 percent approval ratings and locked in a losing battle with unions, would stand behind the podium here in prime time?

Even four months ago the prospect seemed ridiculous. After waiting until other challengers came and went,

Kasich offered a late endorsement of Romney, then quickly undercut the former Massachusetts governor's core argument of slow economic growth under President Barack Obama. At their first – and, until recently, only – joint appearance, Kasich talked gleefully of 80,000 open jobs in Ohio.

But there Kasich was Tuesday, playing the loyal soldier among a cavalry of other GOP governors who took the microphone to argue for Romney and against Obama.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel expresses skepticism about global warming in pre-convention interview

Written with Plain Dealer Washington Bureau Chief Stephen Koff

TAMPA, Fla. -- Josh Mandel, Ohio’s Republican U.S. Senate candidate and an outspoken critic of White House environmental policies, said Sunday that he doubts the presence of global warming.

The state treasurer thinks scientific research on the matter “is inconclusive and riddled with fraud.”

Mandel, who faces incumbent Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown this fall, made the comment during an interview with The Plain Dealer here on the eve of the GOP convention. Mandel, of Beachwood, also addressed Ohio delegates at a brunch.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Trade and Medicare dominate policy talk as Paul Ryan completes Ohio campaign swing

WARREN, Ohio -- Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's two-day tour of battleground Ohio ended Thursday with a couple of hot dogs and a few morsels of policy.

During a morning rally at Walsh University in North Canton, the Wisconsin congressman hammered President Barack Obama over trade relations with China, accusing his administration of taking too soft a stance on currency manipulation.

And during a lunchtime visit to the Original Hot Dog Shoppe, a popular eatery here in Trumbull County, Ryan responded to what has been a key point of contention as he and Mitt Romney slam Obama's record on Medicare.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and pending GOP presidential nominee, foreshadowed a recharged campaign of substantive issues last week by choosing the wonkish Ryan as his running mate. Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is highly regarded among conservatives who have embraced his ideas for fiscal change.

Rhetoric remains in high supply. Both men stumped separately across Ohio this week, offering a new theme that portrays Obama as an angry, divisive leader. But for a few moments Thursday, meaty issues got their due. It's a start.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rob Portman's political profile remains high despite exclusion from national ticket: Analysis

Every word parsed. Every battleground state appearance analyzed. For months Rob Portman's every move came with the added heft of a vice presidential prospect.

As Mitt Romney's search for a running mate entered its final weeks, Ohio's junior senator couldn't even talk about yogurt without someone snickering about his "vanilla" image. Portman nevertheless was seen as, if not the most exciting pick, the safest.

But when the poking, prodding and prognosticating came to an end Saturday morning, it was U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan standing next to Romney at a campaign rally in Norfolk, Va. Portman was spending his weekend like he spends any other – riding his bicycle.

Back to normal for the Cincinnati-area Republican? Not a chance. Portman, 56, may have lost the so-called veepstakes, but thanks to nearly a year in the spotlight as a potential No. 2, his national profile is as high as it has ever been. And if the Romney-Ryan ticket loses to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in November, Portman won't have the taint of defeat on him should he decide in 2016 to take a run for No. 1.

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Monday, August 6, 2012

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney punctuate their Ohio campaigns with brackets

With Ohio a key prize in the race for the White House, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are punctuating their arguments here with gusto.

Their punctuation of choice? Brackets. Or bracketing, as it's known in political playbooks.

Obama and Romney both have refined the strategy, wherein one candidate attempts to stomp on another's message of the day with carefully coordinated publicity strikes. Neither can visit this crucial electoral battleground without facing an aggressive counterattack, often involving top surrogates stationed nearby. Weapons in this fight range from the dull and scripted conference call to the piercing honk of a Romney campaign bus prowling the streets near an Obama event.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Democrats and Republicans see challenges for Barack Obama in key Mahoning Valley

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- When Mitt Romney campaigned here four months ago on the eve of Ohio's partisan primaries, many of the locals couldn't help but scratch their heads.

Why would a Republican presidential contender spend his final precious hours stumping in the Mahoning Valley?

It was a fair question in a region where general elections are formalities.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Southeast Ohio has become an important battleground in presidential politics

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio -- Ask about presidential politics in this industrial corner of Appalachia, and the reactions range somewhere between anger and ambivalence.

Universally there is frustration.

You'll hear it on the bar stools, at the barbershop and especially inside the union halls. And while both Democrats and Republicans are vigorously courting their votes, folks like Terry Hosfelt wonder if anyone is truly listening.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason's political machine grinds to a halt: Analysis

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Jimmy Dimora dominated Cuyahoga County politics for more than a decade, but not without an occasional scrape with Bill Mason and his splinter group of Democrats.

Mason built his own machine on ambition and shoe leather, then enjoyed the spoils as it spit out mayors, city council members, judges and an army of other loyal soldiers who embedded themselves in the trenches of local government.

These were halcyon days. Dimora and Mason coexisted peacefully, perhaps because each began his climb as an outsider eager to shake up the region's political establishment. There was no question Dimora was king in these parts, but as county prosecutor, Mason was the Machiavellian prince and seemed to have a bright future beyond Greater Cleveland.

We know how Dimora's half of the story ended. He succumbed to graft and hubris and today calls a Youngstown prison cell home after being convicted of racketeering and 32 other federal charges. He awaits sentencing next month.

Mason's machine creaked to a much quieter halt last weekend. But let there be no doubt about what happened.

The Mason magic is gone.

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Martin Sheen, also known as TV's President Bartlet, campaigns with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown in Akron

AKRON, Ohio -- Josiah Bartlet, the fictional president played for seven years on television by Martin Sheen, left the White House six years ago when “The West Wing” went off the air.

But in the real world, fellow Democrats continue to ride his coattails.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown brought Sheen to Ohio this week for a series of events designed to inject enthusiasm and cash into his re-election campaign. On Thursday, they toured a Columbus-area food bank, rallied Brown supporters in Summit County and attended two fund-raisers -- one at the home of former Sen. John Glenn, the other in Shaker Heights.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald planting seeds for possible run for Ohio governor in 2014

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, a frequently mentioned prospect for statewide office, is sending strong signals that he is interested in seeking the governor's chair in 2014.

In recent weeks the Democrat has emerged as a top Cleveland-area surrogate for President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, headlined a party fund-raiser in the Toledo area and met with influential leaders in other key parts of Ohio.

FitzGerald also is using the power of his current job to build a reputation as a consensus-builder and problem-solver. This week, for example, he convened elected officials from several counties to discuss a state-funded turnpike study but notably snubbed members of first-term Republican Gov. John Kasich's administration when they fished for invitations.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gov. John Kasich's economic optimism could lift President Barack Obama in Ohio: Analysis

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- President Barack Obama won Ohio four years ago with the help of then-Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who now plays a high-profile role in his re-election campaign.

But his bid to repeat this year could receive an assist from a more unlikely source: Republican Gov. John Kasich.

Kasich has been traveling across the state for months singing optimistic tunes about Ohio's economic recovery and predicting even better days ahead. He is not on the ballot this fall, but he is trying to repair a political reputation badly bruised last fall when voters repealed a collective bargaining law that overshadowed his administration's first year.

Obama might well add his voice to the chorus of those cheering Ohio's improved fortunes this afternoon when he speaks at Lorain County Community College. The speech will be Obama's second at the Elyria campus since taking office, but one he will deliver amid brighter prospects. When he last visited, the state's unemployment rate topped 10 percent.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Even in the age of fact-check journalism, the political whopper lives: Analysis

Josh Mandel's already casual relationship with the truth took a turn toward outright estrangement this month.

The Republican state treasurer and aspiring U.S. senator blamed incumbent rival Sherrod Brown for Ohio jobs relocating to China, a transparent attempt to turn Brown's strong position on foreign trade into a weakness.

Mixing audacity with absurdity, the claim earned a Pants on Fire rating from PolitiFact Ohio.

For the Mandel campaign, the rebuke from the fact-checking arm of The Plain Dealer was just another day at the office. Mandel has received three of PolitiFact Ohio's seven most recent Pants on Fire rulings. Of his 14 statements evaluated on the Truth-O-Meter since 2010, six have been deemed Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dennis Kucinich holding back on future plans, but not on criticism for victorious rival Marcy Kaptur

This story was reported and written with Plain Dealer reporter Sabrina Eaton

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cleveland Rep. Dennis Kucinich is going away mad after a bruising primary loss to longtime Democratic colleague Marcy Kaptur, the Toledo congresswoman he once called his friend.

As he left town around noon Wednesday to return to work in Washington, D.C., he took parting shots at Kaptur and for the second time since conceding the race 12 hours earlier accused her of running a dirty and dishonest campaign.

"That's not who I am," Kucinich said during a brief news conference near the security checkpoint and ticket counters at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. "Our politics have to be lifted up. They don't belong in the gutter."

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Marcy Kaptur scores huge victory against Dennis Kucinich in battle of Democratic heavyweights

TOLEDO, Ohio — U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur clobbered fellow Rep. Dennis Kucinich on Tuesday, her solid victory a stunning end to a mean-spirited primary between Democratic heavyweights.

With nearly all precincts reporting, Kaptur led Kucinich 55 percent to 41 percent. Graham Veysey, a Cleveland entrepreneur making his first run for public office, was a distant third with about 4 percent of the vote.

Kaptur, a longtime Toledo congresswoman, appeared to be sewing up the nomination with an overwhelmingly strong performance on her Lucas County turf. With about 85 percent of the votes counted there, she had outpaced Kucinich, an eight-term congressman and former Cleveland mayor, by a lopsided margin of 90 percentage points.

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Friday, March 2, 2012

Ballot flub may hurt Rick Santorum in Ohio; race tightens in new poll

This story was written and reported with Plain Dealer Washington Bureau Chief Stephen Koff and reporters Aaron Marshal and Pat Galbincea

A new poll Friday showed the Republican presidential race in Ohio too close to call, but Rick Santorum now stands to lose more than a quarter of the state's delegates -- regardless of how he performs here in Tuesday's primary.

The Ohio GOP has revealed that the former Pennsylvania senator filed incomplete delegate slates in six of Ohio's 16 congressional districts. Santorum already had forfeited delegates in three other districts by not submitting slates there at all.

The blunder, perhaps a sign of the choppy campaign organization Santorum had late last year when he was still a long shot, could be costly for the candidate who since has established himself as a consensus alternative to Mitt Romney. Santorum could be ineligible for up to 18 of Ohio's 66 delegates, 63 of whom are up for grabs next week.

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Friendship on the ropes as Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich fight for political survival: Analysis

Time to drop the pretense. Whatever hope U.S. Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur had of remaining friendly during their closely watched primary fight is gone.

When it became apparent last fall that Republican mapmakers would draw the Democratic allies into one congressional district, they cast themselves as reluctant rivals in a race that could end either one's political career.

They said all the right things then. But who didn't see this coming?

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Blue-collar roots guide Marcy Kaptur's folksy -- and occasionally fiery -- career in Congress

This story was reported and written with Plain Dealer Washington Bureau reporter Sabrina Eaton

Marcy Kaptur was in desperate need of dough.

Without a quick infusion of cash 30 years ago, her underdog bid to unseat a Republican congressman would have been dangerously close to sacrificial lamb territory. So she shared with her advisers her big idea for a fundraiser: a bake sale.

"We all laughed," said Jim Ruvolo, then the chairman of the Lucas County Democratic Party and, until that moment, perhaps the biggest believer in Kaptur's fledgling campaign. "We said, 'C'mon, Marcy. We need real money.' "

Kaptur and her supporters churned out cakes, cookies and pies, including many of the pastries beloved in Toledo's Polish, Hungarian and other ethnic neighborhoods. When the goodies were gone, Kaptur had banked about $10,000.

"We all shut up after that," Ruvolo said.

Kaptur won that 1982 race with 58 percent of the vote. Fifteen terms in Congress later, bake sales are a staple of her money-raising efforts. They also are a key to understanding Kaptur as she introduces herself to Cleveland-area voters in a reconfigured district where she is pitted against longtime friend and Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Longtime friends Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur travel new-look campaign trail as rivals

Around Cleveland and its West Side suburbs, a Dennis Kucinich yard sign is a pronouncement of familiarity and exuberance: "DENNIS!" scribbled rakishly in black against a bright, banana-peel yellow background.

But head north on Ohio 4 into Sandusky, and a less-presumptive branding is afoot.

"KUCINICH" the signs read, in bold block letters that create a solemn look.

The difference is telling. Kucinich, a longtime congressman from Cleveland and twice a long-shot candidate for president, is not on a first-name basis with voters here.

Sixty miles and five highway interchanges east, the same is true for Marcy Kaptur.

The longtime congresswoman from Toledo is about to hold a "Meet Marcy" event at the Brook Park branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. As a dozen curious residents gather in the Story Room, an elderly woman asks: "Is she the one who's running against Dennis?"

Yes, she is.

Democratic heavyweights in their respective hometowns, Kucinich and Kaptur are fighting for political survival in each other's back yards this winter. Redistricting has merged a chunk of his base with a large piece of hers, setting up a March 6 primary battle between friends.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Newcomer Graham Veysey touts youth in underdog bid against Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Dennis Kucinich has the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party and country music star Willie Nelson behind his campaign.

Marcy Kaptur has the Lorain mayor and much of the Toledo political establishment.

Graham Veysey has Dent and Lobo from the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky. Maybe.

But when you're an upstart candidate and the third wheel in a congressional primary that features Kucinich and Kaptur, two long-entrenched incumbents thrown into battle against each other because of redistricting, "maybe" is not nothing. It's a sign of encouragement.

"Congress is broken," Veysey says, invariably, to Dent, to Lobo and to anyone else whose hand he can shake in his long-shot bid for the 9th District seat. He passes out literature with a bold logo -- "VZ" -- intended to help voters pronounce his unfamiliar name. He tells them about historically low approval numbers, about partisan gridlock and about the need for fresh faces.

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Monday, January 30, 2012

Josh Mandel's quick but quiet climb up political ladder offers clues about his senatorial prospects

Written and reported with Joe Guillen

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- It might be difficult to believe, but there was a time -- not all that long ago, really -- when Josh Mandel begged off a career in politics.

The year was 1999, and Mandel, an undergrad from Cleveland's suburbs, had just won a second term as president of the student government at Ohio State University.

"I don't enjoy the political part of the job," he told a reporter at the time, rejecting the notion that he had cemented himself a nice little steppingstone into public office.

Today, after three years on the Lyndhurst City Council and two terms as a state legislator, Mandel serves as Ohio's treasurer. He also is the leading Republican candidate this year for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Sherrod Brown of Avon.

But because of his quick rise up a ladder he once said he had no intention of climbing, Mandel, 34, has yet to establish much of a political identity.

In four years at the Statehouse he introduced four bills, none of which made it to a vote. In his Senate campaign, which Mandel began preparing three months into his first year as treasurer, he embraces hard-line views on topics such as the Second Amendment and Occupy Wall Street, yet he decries "hyper-partisan" rhetoric.

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