Hot-Button Social Issues Dim in Ohio Senate Race

By Stephen Koff and Bill Sloat
Religion News Service
Saturday, October 28, 2006

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio -- Russell Mossbarger, a Republican regular, saw President Bush in 2004 as a man who reflected his own moral and Christian beliefs. But then, he says, his party overplayed its churchiness.

"People got tired of it all the time," said Mossbarger, 71, in a bowling alley near Springfield, a small industrial city that is one of Ohio's bellwether communities. "They wore it out, I think."

A Free Will Baptist, Mossbarger wears a ball cap with the U.S. flag. He worries that politicians will try to take "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance.

"But this year, other issues are more important," he said. "Jobs are leaving the country. There's war. It's doubtful the Pledge of Allegiance is more important right now."

Two years after Republicans fused love of God and love of country into such a potent political message in Ohio that national Democrats were discombobulated, the combination of patriotic and religious fervor seems dimmed. Now, with a midterm election approaching and one of the hottest Senate races in the country being waged, not much is being said on the campaign trail about the "three G's" -- gays, guns and God -- in any part of Ohio. Here in the southwestern part of the state, barely a peep is heard about abortion or other social issues.

"Actually, I'm not hearing anything. You just hear the usual kind of stuff, like the economy," said Linda S. Rosicka, Clark County's elections director.

Whether the primacy of social issues was overstated in 2004, those issues have largely fallen off the stump in this year's election. When they do come up, it's usually in ways that are less public, such as in gatherings of Christian conservatives supporting Republican Ken Blackwell's gubernatorial campaign.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R), an ardent foe of abortion, hasn't launched any ads or campaign offensives using social issues, but he says he talks about them when asked. He didn't hesitate in an interview to criticize his opponent, Rep. Sherrod Brown (D), on one such issue, saying Brown has failed repeatedly to vote to outlaw late-term or what opponents call "partial birth" abortion.

"There are fundamental differences between Congressman Brown and myself, and one of the fundamental differences is he voted to continue to practice partial-birth abortion," DeWine said.

Brown's campaign says that's because the bill did not allow an exception for the health of the mother.

Social issues still could become crucial behind the scenes in coming weeks, when interest groups try to motivate members to vote for the sake of balance on the Supreme Court or constitutional battles over abortion rights.

But voters rarely hear those issues mentioned in political speeches, in political news stories and commercials, even in talk around the town square. The reason is pretty simple, political experts say: It's the economy. And the war in Iraq. And the war on terrorism.

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