CLEVELAND -- At the Club Alma Yaucana, a Latino gathering place on the west side, three proclamations signed by former mayor George Voinovich are proudly framed on the paneled walls. On every wall, there are also Voinovich for governor campaign signs.
At Olivet Institutional Baptist Church on the east side, the Rev. Otis Moss, who helped run Jesse L. Jackson's 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns in Ohio, also openly displays his support for Republican Voinovich's bid for governor this year.
These signs of Voinovich inroads in black and ethnic communities in this city, a traditional Democratic stronghold, suggest the bleak prospects facing Ohio Attorney General Anthony J. Celebrezze Jr., the Democrat who would like to succeed Gov. Richard F. Celeste (D).
For Celebrezze, the son of a former Cleveland mayor, and Voinovich, the Republican who ran the city for 10 years, this year's $16 million race for governor has boiled down to a six-week courtship of the independent-minded voters in their economically revived hometown.
Conventional wisdom here has it that a Democratic winner must carry Cleveland's Cuyahoga County by 100,000 votes to overcome Republican strongholds downstate. But two GOP polls show Voinovich leading in the county, and Celebrezze is clearly waging an underdog campaign.
"You know that it's just about prayer time in this election," Mary Yates Malone, a Celebrezze supporter who is on leave as chairman of the Cuyahoga County elections board, told a Democratic audience in Columbus last weekend. "It is the 11th hour."
Voinovich, who solidified his statewide name recognition in 1988 in an unsuccessful challenge to Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), said in an interview that the race is his to lose, an assessment that even Democrats concede is accurate.
Even Celebrezze's much-discussed abortion switch, in which he abandoned his longstanding antiabortion stance, has not yet provided the boost that his advisers hoped for.
Voinovich opposes abortion except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the woman is threatened. When Karen Lucas, a mental health counselor from outside Columbus, queried him about his position after a candidates' forum recently, Voinovich smiled and responded: "I always tell everybody I stand where Tony stood for 25 years."
Celebrezze's new support for abortion rights, Voinovich said, is a simple case of "political expediency," a charge that his campaign is attempting to hammer home in two 30-second television advertisements created by consultant Roger Ailes.
In one, a middle-aged woman who describes herself as an abortion-rights supporter says she is backing Voinovich because she not a single-issue voter. In another, Celebrezze is shown in an unflattering pose while an announcer notes that he once called abortion "murder."
"Tony Celebrezze. Unbelievable," the announcer intones.
Celebrezze's contribution to the abortion wars has been a television spot created by Democratic consultants David Doak and Robert Shrum recalling Voinovich's 1988 accusation that Metzenbaum would be "soft on child pornography."
"Now he's at it again," the announcer in the Celebrezze ad says. "These are the facts. George Voinovich would take away a woman's right to choose. Tony Celebrezze would not take away a woman's right to choose."
After this early barrage of televised attacks and counterattacks, Celebrezze called for a truce this week. In a "Dear George" letter to his opponent, he proposed that both campaigns halt their negative advertising and that the two candidates engage in a series of weekly debates until Election Day. Voinovich responded by challenging Celebrezze to pull his negative commercials off the air.
"The question is who runs the best campaign, who has the best media on TV and who has the most money," said Gerald Austin, who worked for the Jackson presidential campaign in 1988 and for Celebrezze earlier this year before quitting the campaign. "Right now, that favors Voinovich. But I think he's vulnerable."
Celebrezze, who seems most uncomfortable when his back is being slapped, speaks in a flat, nasal voice and tells jokes on the stump that frequently fall flat. Voinovich is the better campaigner, but not by much, party activists say.
"It's Mister Rogers versus Mister Rogers," said Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan (D). "Neither candidate generates any excitement personally at all."
Outgoing Gov. Celeste said the key to Celebrezze's chances is Democratic unity. "He's got to focus the campaign on the issues that cut, that draw the differences between himself and Voinovich," Celeste said at a Columbus campaign stop for Celebrezze last weekend. "The Democrats have to focus as a team. Democrats only win when they're a team."
Just how cohesive the Democrats are this year in Ohio, however, is an open question. Cleveland Mayor Michael White (D), who was elected last year to succeed Voinovich, withheld his endorsement until last week. In a bizarre turn of political theater, White publicly praised Voinovich for weeks, making his fellow Democrats jittery and delighting Republicans. When White finally endorsed Celebrezze last week, it was only after elaborate negotiations that climaxed in a two-hour meeting between the two Democrats behind clear glass doors at the city's lakefront airport, where television cameras were allowed to record the scene.
Celebrezze arges that Voinovich's support "is only an inch deep," but he needs money to take his message to the airwaves over the next few weeks. Voinovich appears to have the edge there as well. President Bush has been in the state for two fund-raisers so far and is scheduled to return next week. Vice President Quayle has been in three times and is expected a fourth, and Barbara Bush and Marilyn Quayle have made separate visits as well.
Republican heavy-hitters notwithstanding, Voinovich realizes it is his job to woo Democrats during the remaining weeks. "There really isn't a Democratic or Republican way to run state government," he tells audiences. "There's a right way and a wrong way."
The temptation to declare the race over is strong in Ohio political circles, but both sides also appear nervous that a fall bombshell could be in the offing.
"Who can predict what could or could not happen?" said Cuyahoga County GOP Chairman Robert Hughes. "The Bay of Pigs came down in October of 1962. Who knows what's going to happen?"