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  •   GOP Ahead in Midwest Primaries

    Campaign '98

    By Thomas B. Edsall
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, May 7, 1998; Page A07

    In the ground war to control the House, Republicans advanced a step forward this week, modestly strengthening their chances of retaking an Ohio congressional seat that neither party has held for longer than one term in the 1990s.

    And in Indiana, GOP primary voters picked a wild card candidate on Tuesday to run against Rep. Julia Carson, a potentially vulnerable Democrat in an Indianapolis district. Her challenger will be Gary Hoffmeister, a wealthy jeweler with no election experience, who ran what Democrats concede was a tough, well-organized primary campaign that mobilized the Christian right and social conservatives.

    With the GOP holding an 11-seat House majority – the smallest in history – every inch gained or lost before Election Day Nov. 3 counts.

    Republicans in southeast Ohio succeeded in fending off the comeback bid of former representative Frank A. Cremeans, so likely to lose in November that most of the state GOP establishment, including Gov. George V. Voinovich, Sen. Mike DeWine and six House members, endorsed his primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Nancy Hollister.

    Hollister is viewed as the strongest candidate to take on Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland, who was first elected in 1992 with 51 percent of the vote, lost in 1994 to Cremeans with 49 percent, and reclaimed the seat in 1996 with 51 percent.

    Hollister won the nomination with only a 39 percent plurality, defeating Cremeans in a tough contest in which she attacked from the center, while two minor conservative candidates went after Cremeans from the right, leaving him with just 35 percent of the vote.

    "How many bills did he sponsor on abortion? Zero," a radio ad by conservative Tom Sharpe asked. "And did you know that Frank Cremeans didn't even cosponsor the partial-birth abortion ban? When it comes to being pro-life, he's got fewer convictions than the O.J. Simpson jury."

    Strickland yesterday said he thinks "Hollister is a much more skillful campaigner than Frank."

    But Strickland added that Hollister's support of abortion rights should neutralize the antiabortion forces, which have been a key constituency opposing Strickland.

    Strickland said he is both impressed and worried by Hollister's willingness to conduct a negative campaign against Cremeans. "If she is willing to do this with a Republican, what would she be willing to do with me?"

    Over in Indianapolis, Mike Young, who managed Hoffmeister's winning primary campaign, warned yesterday that Hoffmeister plans to conduct a sustained attack on Democrat Carson.

    Hoffmeister, who won with 44 percent of the vote, defeated Virginia Blankenbaker, a moderate Republican who received 37 percent.

    Young said the Republican campaign will highlight Carson's votes to uphold President Clinton's veto of a ban on partial-birth abortion, a procedure most often used late in pregnancy.

    "We have a lot of conservative Democratic Catholics; no way they are going to accept this type of vote from their congressperson," he said.

    Acknowledging that she faces a rough election, Carson said Hoffmeister is "an easier person for me to debate." Blankenbaker, who ran unsuccessfully against Carson in 1996, "projects herself to be the PTA type. Because of who I am and what I do, I had to be very cautious not to appear to be jumping on Virginia."

    With Hoffmeister, Carson said, "we can confront him head on without any fear."

    In the Indiana GOP Senate primary, Paul Helmke, the mayor of Fort Wayne, defeated social conservative John Price by 7,624 votes.

    Helmke faces a very tough fight against popular former governor Evan Bayh (D).

    Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this article.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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