"I always said the commercials of candidates would be morphing their opponents into Bob Taft before November," Portsmouth, Ohio, attorney Eddie Edwards, a longtime Republican activist, told me the day before the May 2 Ohio primaries. "And I was right — they started doing it in April!"
With lame-duck Republican Gov. Taft cited for an ethics violation and the widespread negative publicity surrounding coin dealer Tom Noe and his handling of state pension funds, Edwards was right on target. Most polls show Taft’s statewide approval rating in the teens and, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently concluded, "His legacy as governor is in tatters and the scandals that have rocked the statehouse threaten to bring down most Republican candidates in this year’s elections for state offices."
Edwards and other party warhorses find an almost eerie similarity between ’06 and 1970 — the year of the notorious "Crofters affair," in which several Republican statewide officials, including gubernatorial nominee Roger Cloud, had received donations from the Crofters firm of Columbus which had earlier arranged several million dollars in illegal loans from the state treasury. Cloud returned the money, but several Republican nominees for statewide office who had accepted Crofters contributions rejected the recommendation of the state party that they step down. As a result, Democrats won the governorship, almost won a U.S. Senate seat and won enough statewide offices to control the redistricting process. The Democratic sweep of ’70 and resultant redistricting had a powerful impact on Buckeye State politics for a decade.
The "Noe affair" could have a similar impact. Having won the GOP nod for governor in large part because he was least tied to Taft and Noe, conservative Ken Blackwell faces an uphill battle against Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland. (Read my story on the win here.) After Pennsylvania’s Rick Santorum, two-term Sen. Mike DeWine is considered the most vulnerable GOP senator facing the voters this year. Angry over many votes by DeWine (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 85%) ranging from opposing ANWR oil drilling to supporting gun control measures, conservative-run GOP organizations in a handful of rural counties endorsed or gave higher ratings to his lesser-known primary opponents: William G. Pierce of Maineville and David R. Smith of Mason (who drew a combined 30% of the vote against DeWine in the primary). A just-completed Rasmussen poll showed DeWine leading the Democratic nominee, seven-term Rep. Sherrod Brown, by 43% to 41% statewide.