"This is not the end of the Ohio Republican Party"

In 2004's key swing state, Republicans held some ground Tuesday, but nearly everyone agrees it was a dark night for Ohio Republicans.


Alex Koppelman
November 9, 2006 1:47AM (UTC)

The only images in the foyer of the headquarters of the Ohio Republican Party -- besides two statues of trumpeting elephants -- are of George W. Bush. There are three of them: One is a photo of him on the stump, another of him in academic regalia at Ohio State University, acknowledging the crowd with a stiff wave like some monarch of old. The third is a painting.

The spectral figures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln each clasp one of Bush's shoulders; Bush himself is standing behind the presidential podium, his head bowed, his eyes closed, as if in prayer. Behind him are yet more spectral figures, highlighted in a glowing white: Old Glory, the presidential seal and, smaller, the Statue of Liberty and the soldiers raising the flag at Iwo Jima.

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Inside the Ohio Democratic Party's headquarters, a smaller, more run-down building, hang posters from campaigns past: Humphrey-Muskie, Dukakis-Bentsen, McGovern-Shriver, Stevenson, Mondale-Ferarro, re-elect Carter-Mondale. The contrast could not be starker: one party used to winning, the other to legendarily humiliating defeat.

But this year the world's turned upside down. In the state that gave Bush his re-election in 2004, Democrats took the governor's mansion, defeated an incumbent senator, picked up at least one seat in the House of Representatives, at least six seats in the State House and one seat in the State Senate. They nearly swept the statewide non-judicial races, knocking off the state's most popular Republican, incumbent Attorney General Betty Montgomery -- in the past two elections, Ohio's leading vote-getter -- winning the open secretary of state position and taking the state treasurer's slot.

Republicans did manage to hold on to the auditor's chair, and to pull out close races in Congress that some observers were speculating just a few days ago might go Democratic, but on Tuesday night, those victories gave party faithful little comfort.

Bush wasn't the only specter whose vision loomed over the Republican Party this year, though he, his unpopularity, and his unpopular war, certainly played a role in the party's defeat. More, perhaps, than any other state in the union, local issues were a main factor here, and in the days before the election the Republicans could not escape reminders of the party's scandals over the past two years.

Bob Ney, the Republican congressman who pleaded guilty to charges relating to the Jack Abramoff scandal, waited until just last Friday to announce his resignation from Congress, though he had agreed to the plea in August, and the trial of Tom Noe, the figure at the center of Ohio's Coingate scandal, just wrapped up Tuesday. All this combined to create an atmosphere in which even some of Ohio's safest incumbents faced unwinnable fights. Sen. Mike DeWine, who lost his re-election battle Tuesday night to Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown, summed the situation up in his concession speech.

"We did everything we could," he said from the podium as his children stood crying behind him, "but it just was not to be. This was not the year -- we could not win."

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Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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