Chairman may have to twist arms to get Democrats on statewide ballot

By JOHN McCARTHY, Associated Press Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - The Ohio Democratic Party chairman may have some arm-twisting to do.
Denny White said at the party's annual fund-raising dinner Saturday that the mayors of Ohio's big cities -- Democrats all -- would be attractive candidates on the statewide ballot next year and in 2006.
Two of the party's brightest stars don't seem ready to jump into statewide races -- races no Democrat has won since 1992 when John Glenn easily won re-election to his final term in the U.S. Senate.
Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman is up for re-election this year and the Republicans couldn't find a candidate to oppose him. That has not stopped him from thinking beyond this year's election.
"I love being mayor and I'm going to continue to love being mayor. I do intend to get involved in the (2004) presidential race," said Coleman, who has hired a full-time political director paid out of his campaign fund.
"I will have an impact on state races in 2006," Coleman said.
He stopped short of saying he would be a statewide candidate in three years but did not rule it out.
Neither did Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell, who said she intends to seek re-election in 2005. Asked, though, if she intended to run for governor, an office in which she previously has expressed an interest, she said: "My candidate is Mike Coleman."
"That's nice of Jane to say that," Coleman responded, declining further comment.
White, who took over the chairman's job just before the 2002 statewide elections, said he's already busy recruiting candidates for 2006.
"I'd encourage Coleman, Campbell, all our major mayors," he said. "The more Democratic candidates we have around Ohio who have an interest in running in 2004 or 2006, the better off Democrats are."
Two Democrats considering a challenge to Republican U.S. Sen. George Voinovich next year joined the 1,300 Democrats at the dinner, which raised $225,000 for the state party. State Sen. Eric Fingerhut of Cleveland and talk show host Jerry Springer, a former Cincinnati mayor, worked the crowd but did not make speeches.
The keynote speaker was Terry McAuliffe, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. McAuliffe told the crowd that the Democratic nominee will not back out of Ohio like Al Gore did a month before the 2000 election. Gore came within 4 percentage points of George W. Bush in the election, although Bush's campaign moved elsewhere after Gore backed out.
"The countdown to the beginning of the end of George Bush starts here tonight in the Buckeye State," McAuliffe said as the crowd roared its approval.
Although all the Democratic presidential candidates were invited, only two showed up. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a former Cleveland mayor, were given rousing welcomes by the audience. They flew in from a union forum in Des Moines, Iowa, that was attended by most of the other candidates.
Dean told reporters before his speech that the Democrats will never win the presidency by acting like moderate Republicans.
"I don't think we can beat George Bush by being Bush-light. We need a fiscal conservative and a social progressive and that's who I am," Dean said.
Kucinich brought his populist message of national health insurance, labor rights and trade protections to the crowd made up of dozens of union members.
He reminded the crowd that he had beaten Republican incumbents in his races for mayor, state senator and Congress.
"In 2004, I'm prepared to replace another Republican incumbent who happens to be in the White House," Kucinich said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)