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Election 2008: Previewing the Ohio Primaries

Mark Naymik
Political Reporter, Cleveland Plain Dealer
Tuesday, March 4, 2008 10:00 AM

Cleveland Plain Dealer political reporter Mark Naymik was online Tuesday, March 4 at 10 a.m. ET to take your questions on the Democratic and Republican primaries in Ohio on Tuesday, the vice presidential chances of Gov. Ted Strickland and how things look in the state for November.

The transcript follows.

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Kensington, Md.: Politicians famously deflect, decline, dismiss (and lots of other d-verbs) reporters' suggestions that they might join a presidential ticket. Gov. Strickland has done so slightly more vehemently than the garden variety pol: I will not run, I will not serve, I will plug my ears and say "nah nah I can't heeear you" if you offer me the position. So, should we believe him?

Mark Naymik: You are right, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland has been consistent and more direct in denying his interest in a vice presidential spot, though it would be a nice upgrade for a governor who once lived in a chicken coop in Southern Ohio. (That's true. He grew up poor, and when the family farm house burned, his father moved the large family into the chicken coop for a short time.) While the vice president's job is not something he says he wants, he has not ruled out other possibilities, like a cabinet-level job, etc. At the moment, I believe he and Clinton are focused on winning Ohio today.

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Anonymous: If I miss a year, can I vote without reregistering?

Mark Naymik: Yes. Most election boards have been very generous in keeping voters on the books. In Ohio, officials are supposed to purge inactive voters after two federal election cycles, but most do not. While that means there are often more people on the books than actual residents, voters are not bumped. That helps avoid disenfranchising anyone.

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Richmond, Va.: Okay, so Clinton holds a new conference in which she accuses Obama of winking his stand on NAFTA, and then the Canadian Embassy has to issue a statement saying that what Clinton says in untrue. For sure the people of Ohio would have heard Clinton's -- uh -- "untruths," but would they have had enough time to hear the Canadian response?

washingtonpost.com: The Fact-Checker: Obama parses his words on NAFTA (washingtonpost.com, March 3)

Mark Naymik: The NAFTA debate has received intense attention from both the media and the candidates in Ohio because of the large union membership, which opposes the trade agreement. The Canadian issue -- that Barack Obama's campaign downplayed its opposition to the trade agreement to a Canadian official -- also has received a decent hearing in the media. At the Plain Dealer, we did not overplay the original charge because so much of it seemed to come down to "he said/she said." The Plain Dealer ran another story Tuesday -- played inside the paper -- that explains even more of the back and forth. Both Clinton and Obama received a chance, as well as the Canadian government. Let's remember: in the end the two candidates are pretty close on the issue. As for tactics, Clinton ran a radio ad yesterday about the Canadian issue, but it was "fact-checked" by us and others.

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Detroit: How deep are the divisions within the Democratic Party in Ohio regarding the endorsement and expectations game? Will hard feelings carry over into the convention or even the general election?

Mark Naymik: Good question, and one that many reporters will explore after the primary. Gov. Ted Strickland, the titular head of the party, backs Sen. Hillary Clinton. Some Barack Obama supporters use that fact to accuse the party of playing favorites, but Ohio Democrats want to win, having lost in 2004 by about 2 percentage points. Many folks believe party members will get over hard feelings fast because winning the White House is too important to them.

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Anonymous: Will the youth vote turn out in record numbers in Ohio today?

Mark Naymik: That may be the big story of the day. Ohio's demographics have favored Hillary Clinton. Ohio is slightly older, whiter and less-educated than the national average. That suggests the youth turnout will support Barack Obama, as it has in other primary states.

But you likely will remember all the hype around the youth vote in 2004, which didn't really materialize, at least not in Ohio. Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner says that after a recent Obama college rally in the Dayton area, the local elections board saw a surge of voter registration cards from the rally.

There's also another interesting number in Cuyahoga County, the state's largest county. Thirty-four percent of the 90,000 requests for absentee ballots are coming from people who did not vote in the last presidential election. Surely some of these numbers include the youth voters taking advantage of Ohio's new no-fault absentee voting.

We will know the real answer in about 12 hours.

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New York: These (ignorant) Ohioans I see on CNN, etc., who say they won't vote for Obama because he is a Muslim -- are they truly Democrats, or are they in fact Republicans?

Mark Naymik: The "ignorant" voters pushing the Muslim claim certainly are not just in Ohio -- I hear the charge from all over the country. The good news is that they make up a minority of voters, if that. The bulk of Ohio voters are focused on real issues.

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Kensington, Md.: Has the voting machine situation gotten any better in Ohio's problem areas since 2004, when Ken Blackwell and the Diebold CEO made good on delivering Ohio's electoral votes to George W. Bush? I understood then that the problem spots typically were campuses and heavily African American districts. Somehow I don't imagine Strickland has been in a rush to clear that up in time for Sen. Obama's challenge to the governor's chosen candidate.

Mark Naymik: I've been waiting for this question. The answer is: Depends on whom you ask. The Democratic Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner, has ordered Cuyahoga County -- the largest county in the state -- to scrap its Diebold machines in favor of optical scan machines, those that read ballots marked with pen. Cuyahoga County election officials were okay with its Diebold touch screen machines. Several years ago, officials sued the former Secretary of State Ken Blackwell for the right to use them. As someone who has covered the elections board for seven years, I can tell you the machines have not been the overriding problem -- human error has.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Aren't Obama and Clinton saying anything to win the election in Ohio when they discuss NAFTA? NAFTA barely has been mentioned as an issue in Texas, where the agreement seems to be successful. Most Americans probably have little idea of what NAFTA is, and are are being fed indignation through this so-called debate.

Mark Naymik: Ohio voters definitely know that NAFTA is the North American Free Trade Agreement. The many union households in Ohio blame the trade agreement for sending its manufacturing jobs to Mexico and Canada. The economy is the number one issue here, according to most polls; the NAFTA debate is part of that. What is left out is the positive impact the deal has had on some companies and industries. We will hear more about it in the general election, when Republicans will point to companies like Honda, which builds cars in Ohio and has benefited from trade deals.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: As an aside to the presidential election, what is happening in the Kucinich race? Because he is a national figure, there is national interest in what is happening in that race. Who is running against him, and what are the issues and factors in that primary that may determine the outcome?

Mark Naymik: Dennis Kucinich should win re-election. He carries a strong base of support on the West Side of Cleveland. He is an institution in politics that voters seem to like having around. He won his last primary with about 75 percent of the vote, but this time around he has had to work very hard. He left the presidential race to tend to his race back home, where he has gotten beaten up pretty good by Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman. Cimperman exploited Kucinich's long-shot bid for the White House and has worked very hard. Cimperman is one of four challengers to Kucinich's seat, meaning that the anti-Kucinich vote is split up.

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Anonymous: What's the status of Ohio's voting machines and their distribution in low-income, minority areas?

Mark Naymik: The conspiracy wing of the population hates to hear this, but the low-income areas of Cuyahoga County often get more machines and attention than other areas. The same has been largely true elsewhere in Ohio. There was a problem in Franklin County in 2004, when a board official -- a black Democrat -- misread the all the signs and shorted a few neighborhoods. Aside from that, the minority areas are taken care of.

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Cleveland voter: I voted this morning in Cuyahoga using a paper ballot that was not check for errors (they are scan at one site after the polls closed). I do think that Ohio is as bad as Florida ... I would not be surprised if it is weeks before we know the results ... and I would not trust them...

Mark Naymik: Cuyahoga County does not scan the ballot for errors -- it doesn't have enough extra machines -- but if you simply voted for one person in each race by filling in the circle next to the candidate's name, you will be fine.

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Anonymous: What's the expected voter turnout today vs. primaries of the past?

Mark Naymik: Ohio voter turnout is expected to be around 50 percent, which is huge compared to past primaries. Far fewer people turned out for the 2006 governor's race.

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Seward, Neb.: Looking at the weather radar, conditions look awful in Ohio this morning -- especially icy in northern Ohio. Care to hazard a guess as to who this favors?

Mark Naymik: I don't put much stock in the weather debate. The campaigns are too active to let voters get discouraged by weather. The weather is never good in Cleveland.

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Anonymous: Didn't a recent test on optical scanners used in Ohio fail? Are paper ballots being used to ensure accurate results? If so, will this delay tabulation?

Mark Naymik: Yes. A test failed, maybe a couple; that's what tests are for. The good news is that with paper ballots your vote is recorded, regardless of what the machines do later. I am prepared to stay up late tonight to wait for results.

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Cleveland's Market: All you hear is how Greater Cleveland is swirling the drain, particularly as home abandonment increases. From a local, how bad is it?

Mark Naymik: The foreclosure topic certainly could use more attention from all candidates, because it's an issue that affects a lot of cities. As for Greater Cleveland, there are several pockets with an incredible concentration of abandoned homes, which has earned the area a lot of negative attention.

The area's housing market is trailing the national average, but the Greater Cleveland area is a strong and wealthy market and will survive. Think about all the bad press Detroit gets -- it hasn't hit the drain yet. The only thing swirling the drain is the melting snow at the moment.

Thanks for all the questions. I'm happy to answer more at mnaymik@plaind.com, or you can follow Ohio politics at our blog and Web site.

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