THIS is a good story about Ohio’s recent elections that includes some funny quotes from Blackwell staffer Alex Tornero who, half-way through a rainy election day, with his candidate 20 points down in the polls, can still say, with a smile on his face:

“Rain hurts Democrats the most, Conservatives are always stronger on the moral obligation of voting.”

Funny stuff indeed.

Oh- and just to clarify: the story calls Tornero a “volunteer”- but he was actually a paid Blackwell staffer- making over $17K this year.

Heartland wants a bit more heart

November 08, 2006

THE Republican campaign headquarters in Ohio’s Warren County is a little wooden hut directly behind the Golden Lamb tavern in the small town of Lebanon – pronounced “LEH-buh-nihn” by locals like moonwalker Neil Armstrong.

The tavern has been in business since 1803, and over the years 12 presidents have stopped by for a drink. How much this history interests Alex Tornero, the baby-faced Republican volunteer sitting behind a big desk in the hut, I’m not sure, but he seems more the soft-drink type.

Which is probably all for the best, given some of Ohio’s other history. As well as being a heavily populated and long-industrialised microcosm of the US, and a crucial bellwether whenever the country votes, the Buckeye state is also the birthplace of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Tornero first offers me a seat, then the party line. “I believe we’ve got to stay the course in Iraq,” he says, puffing out his little chest. “If we don’t, the terrorists will have a stronghold.”

Yeah, OK, fine. But what about the real issue, the one people all over Ohio are talking about?

Tornero looks puzzled. The attack ads, I tell him. You’re carpet-bombing Ohio with attack ads and the voters are sick of it.

Actually, atom-bombing might be a better description. In one of the meanest and dirtiest US election campaigns in memory, Ohio’s performance, on both sides of the political divide, has been right up there with the grubbiest in the union.

The easy excuse is that Ohio is a crucial battleground, and excesses occur in the heat of war. The GOP holds 12 of Ohio’s 18 house seats in Congress, but is facing the loss of at least five, along with the governorship, one house of the state legislature, and most significant of all, the Senate seat held by Mike DeWine, which is at risk of falling to Democrat Sherrod Brown.

If this scenario plays out, the state that delivered George W.Bush a second term as president in 2004 would become a kind of Republican killing fields just two years later.

But even so, the scale and intensity of the attack ads in Ohio almost defy belief. For weeks, radio and television have been saturated with candidates accusing their opponents of everything from lying, cheating and outright laziness to dismissing the welfare of soldiers fighting in Iraq, supporting murderers and coddling child molesters.

One commercial by Republican congressman Pat Tiberi even goes so far as to mock Democrat opponent Bob Shamansky by name in the nyah-nyah style of children: “Tax sham? Or voter sham?” the narrator intones with heavily exaggerated sarcasm. “Bob Sham-ansky.”

Worse is a pair of TV ads in which the rival candidates use the mothers of murdered children to attack each other as soft on crime prevention.

Commercial breaks in prime time can feature five or six such attack ads run back-to-back. The effect is jolting. In Australia, most of this stuff would never get to air. Here, the first amendment protects everything.

At a small-town cafe, proprietor Robbie Jones says it has reached the stage where the values he’s trying to foster in his children are being undermined.

“I always vote on spiritual issues,” says Jones, a staunch Republican supporter.

“Like a lot of people around here, I’m very pro-life and I look for where people stand on those issues. But the mudslinging in this election is so disgusting it makes you not want to vote at all. Really, it has to stop.”

Ohio’s newspapers have started to pick up on the resentment. In Akron, one columnist observed that US elections are no longer a time for parents to teach children about civics.

Instead, contemporary political culture was “poisoning the minds of children”, teaching them to assume the worst in people and to regard Congress as a place run by mean-spirited opportunists who fight dirty at every opportunity.

But back in Lebanon, young Tornero will brook no such criticism, especially of the Republicans. “I don’t see anything wrong with attack ads, and I’m not offended by them if they’re based on truth, like ours are,” he says. “The voters shouldn’t be ignorant about issues concerning candidates. They need to be aware of who they’re voting for.”

The voters of Ohio, it seems, also need a good shove. Over the past 12 days, Tornero and 60 volunteers have made 28,000 calls to listed Republicans in Warren County, urging them to make the effort to vote.

In political jargon, this is GOTV – Get Out the Vote – and it’s what Republicans are renowned for delivering in election campaigns. In Warren County, another 50,000 GOTV attempts have been made door-to-door. Nor is the effort diminished by the forecast of rain on polling day.

“Rain hurts Democrats the most,” Tornero explains. “Conservatives are always stronger on the moral obligation of voting.”

Sitting outside the state legislature building in Columbus, 39-year-old Robert Bates says he won’t be voting, but not because he doesn’t like the rain.

Homeless since his mother died six months ago and he was unable to keep up the rent on her low-income housing, Bates says his daily priority is finding the $US12 ($15.60) it costs to sleep and have a shower at a boarding house down the street.

But the relentless negativity of the election campaign has had its effect, even on the homeless.

“We need to bring this country together and be united again,” Bates says.

“I’ve seen some of these ads, and man, they’re not what America is supposed to be about.

“So I hope we get some people elected who want to help. We gotta let the light shine on everyone.”