When former Democratic Rep. Dennis Eckart went to vote in his Cleveland precinct Tuesday morning, he could not help noticing the large anti-voter-fraud poster behind the check-in table.
As he sees it, the sign's presence was not rooted in civic nobility. "Ohio does not have a big tradition of party switching, and there is a provision that says if you want to vote in the Republican primary, you have to sign an affidavit affirming your loyalty to the Republican Party," fumed Eckart, a John McCain supporter. "If you're coming in and someone challenges you and you see this poster with 8-inch-high letters, it's going to have a chilling effect. The party here should be excited that there's someone who makes people want to go out and vote Republican, but no, they want to make it more difficult."
Doubtless there were some challenges. But as the numbers came in, it didn't seem that any strong-arm effort by the Republican establishment killed McCain here. While the Arizona insurgent did draw crossover voters, he was never destined to repeat his Michigan success for the simple reason that there was a Democratic primary here, too. And in the end -- despite a projected higher-than-usual turnout -- the presidential tallies came in as expected in the Buckeye State, with voters picking each party's Chosen Ones: Al Gore defeated Bill Bradley 75 percent to 25 percent, while George W. Bush beat McCain 59 percent to 37 percent.
Prospective wins here for either McCain or Bradley were always rooted more in wishful thinking than in economics: "Ohio's a tough state, because you've got seven different media markets, and if you want to make a dent, you've got to spend the money on TV in at least Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton," said Ohio State University political science professor Herbert Asher, who also cited the lack of organizational strength of the overwhelmed McCain effort and the underwhelming tenor of the Bradley endeavor. "Gore had organized labor from the beginning. Bush had the endorsement of just about the entire Republican establishment except Sen. [Mike] DeWine, and Bush had more resources."
There were, nonetheless, high hopes for McCain, whose stops brought out citizens in droves. On 18 hours' notice last week, a former McCain staffer here pulled together an event that brought out 5,000, and McCain ended up signing around 1,200 copies of his book. And McCain was a good draw up to the end; while a Bradley rally in the Cleveland suburb of Brook Park on Sunday drew about 400 people (virtually all Democrats), a McCain rally earlier that day in nearby Broadview Heights brought out 2,000 people of reportedly varying ideological stripes.