CityBeat has been fortunate over the years to exchange ideas, stories and designs with our alternative press colleagues across the U.S. and Canada, both in formal story-sharing through the Association of Alternative Newsmedia and in spontaneous coalitions of the willing. When Cleveland and Pittsburgh built new stadiums before Cincinnati in the ’90s, for instance, we got writers from those altweeklies to explain lessons that might inform the stadium debate here.
As the 2006 election neared, Ohio was in the crosshairs as usual — unpopular Gov. Bob Taft was term-limited out, leaving an open seat, and GOP Sen. Mike DeWine was vulnerable as President Bush’s approval ratings plummeted. Both parties wanted to solidify support in Ohio before the 2008 presidential campaign.
CityBeat partnered with the altweeklies in Cleveland and Athens to profile the three non-incumbents in those races, each of whom was established in his respective home area but still fairly unknown across the state. CityBeat profiled Ken Blackwell, two-term Ohio Secretary of State who grew up here and started his political career on Cincinnati City Council. The Athens News profiled Blackwell’s opponent, Ted Strickland, who represented southern Ohio in Congress and was seeking statewide office for the first time. And Cleveland Free Times profiled Sherrod Brown, long-time Democratic Congressman from the Cleveland suburbs who was taking on DeWine.
Each paper ran the long magazine-style profiles as cover stories: Blackwell in August, Brown in September and Strickland in October. The best part of each story, we think, was how it tied details from the candidate’s childhood or early career to his current political worldview.
Blackwell had been a “black radical” in the ’60s at Xavier University but was elected to City Council as a Charterite and then became a Republican during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Brown milked cows on the family farm in Mansfield as a boy and rallied support for the first Earth Day in 1970 as high school class president. Strickland studied to be a minister until running for Congress as a Democrat and losing three straight races in the ’70s and ’80s, then practiced psychology at the Lucasville maximum security prison before returning to politics.
“ ‘I see him as the ultimate opportunist,’ local civil rights icon Marian Spencer says of Ken Blackwell. ‘This is the hand he has played. He has waffled, he has moved in ways that best served him at the time.’ ”
“Sherrod Brown’s brand of populism comes from an almost pedantic zeal for fairness. He refused the congressional health insurance plan and paid his own way, vowing only to sign on after Congress approved universal health care coverage for all Americans. He now jokes that he might not have done this if he’d known that universal health care was such a remote possibility.”
“ ‘You know what he is? Simply put, he’s a good man,’ says GOP consultant Neil Clark about Ted Strickland. ‘If he doesn’t get himself corrupted by the people he ends up employing, he’s going to have a great career.’ ”
Ted Strickland topped Ken Blackwell 60-37 percent to become governor. Four years later he lost his re-election bid to John Kasich. Neither Strickland nor Blackwell has held elective office since.
Sherrod Brown beat Mike DeWine 56-44 percent and was re-elected to a second term in 2012.
Ohio’s Democratic swing in 2006 continued two years later, when Barack Obama’s 51-47 percent win across the state secured his presidential victory.