Republicans Eye Ohio
by Jules Witcover
While other Republicans zero in on November's midterm congressional elections in the hope of derailing the Obama presidency, the GOP National Committee is busy making plans for its 2016 national convention. Seven cities are finalists to host it, including three in Ohio -- Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus. The others are Denver, Dallas, Kansas City and Las Vegas.
Why the swing Buckeye State is no great surprise. No member of the Party of Lincoln has ever been elected to the Oval Office without carrying Ohio, which has strong conservative business interests and liberal labor unions. Democrat Barack Obama won it in the last two national elections with a heavy African-American vote in the old heavily Democratic city of Cleveland.
Choosing Cleveland would mark a comeback for the much-maligned city on the banks of the Cuyahoga River, once famed for having caught fire. In an earlier bid for a national political convention, the city acknowledged inadequate hotel rooms but proposed bringing cruise ships to the Lake Erie port to house the delegates.
The city of considerable Eastern European ethnicity has been celebrated, or ridiculed, for the alleged garb of some of its citizens -- polyester suit, white belt and white shoes -- as "a full Cleveland." A suburb, Parma, has been dubbed "the white socks capital of America." The wife of a former mayor of Cleveland, Ralph Perk, declined an invitation to a White House dinner because, he reported, it fell on her regular bowling night.
Cincinnati long has been a GOP stronghold, home of President William Howard Taft and of Sen. Robert A. Taft, a stiff-necked conservative who seemed in 1952 also destined for the White House. Instead, World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower was engineered into the Republican nomination and election by the party's Eastern Establishment, now barely a shadow in the party hierarchy.
In 1960, Ohio voted for Ike's vice president, Richard M. Nixon, but he narrowly lost the White House to charismatic John F. Kennedy. Eight years later, though, Nixon staged a storied comeback, preaching the politics of law and order during the street protests against the war in Vietnam, narrowly beating Hubert Humphrey, again carrying Ohio.
As that 1968 race came down to the wire, Nixon whistle-stopped through western Ohio, declaring at one stop that the country had become "a nation where 50 percent of American women are frightened to walk within a mile of their homes at night."
Promising "freedom from fear," Nixon intoned in the town of Deshler: "In the 45 minutes it takes to ride from Lima to Deshler ... there has been one murder, two rapes, 45 major crimes of violence, countless robberies and auto thefts."
The Nixon scare crusade carried him to victory, and on election night he recalled seeing a teenager in Deshler holding a sign reading "Bring Us Together." He pledged to do just that as president, though nobody who had been at that rally could recall seeing her or her sign. It made a good story, but it was hardly a precursor of the divisiveness over the war that continued.
In 1972, Democrat George McGovern, striving desperately against Nixon's re-election, saw Ohio as his only hope. So he returned there repeatedly in the closing weeks, to no avail. Reporters on his campaign plane sang to him a parody of a popular song about the Buckeye State:
"Why oh, why oh, why oh, do we coming to Ohio? Why must you humble us, with so much Columbus? We'd rather see Scranton or Nome. Cleveland makes us weary, and Cincinnati's just as dreary. We need no Toledo to soothe our libido. Why do we keep coming to O-H-I-O? Why can't we just turn and go home?"
McGovern persevered in the state of the Tafts but lost there and everywhere else except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. In the 1980s, after Watergate and Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan brought Ohio back into the Republican fold, and George W. Bush kept it there until Obama came onto the scene.
After all the abuse suffered, the state certainly deserves a national convention. But why not in Dayton, Akron or Youngstown?
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