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Effect on #039;values#039; movement in district still uncertain

Tuesday's congressional primary in a conservative district provides few clues to the direction ''values voters'' are taking, political watchers who study them say. But backers of the values movement say they'll be active in elections hereafter.

Jean Schmidt, a former state representative from Loveland, emerged as the GOP nominee in the campaign to replace former U.S. Rep. Rob Portman of Cincinnati.

President Bush appointed Portman as his trade representative and he began the job in April. Schmidt faces Democrat Paul Hackett of suburban Cincinnati in the Aug. 2 general election.

Geography and voter turnout kept observers from drawing much from Schmidt's victory over 10 opponents, notably former Rep. Bob McEwen, who was endorsed by many Christian conservatives. Schmidt is the president of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati.

The district, while diverse economically, is overwhelmingly Republican. Just 13 percent of registered voters turned out. Republicans drew 10 percent and Democrats, 3 percent.

''It's just really hard to read anything into it,'' said John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron and a specialist on the relationship between religion and politics. ''It's a disappointment for some of the Christian conservative leaders who wanted McEwen to win.''

The GOP campaign was expensive and rough, especially between McEwen and Pat DeWine, who was elected a Hamilton County Commissioner in November. McEwen between 1981-1993 represented a large chunk of the district. He was accused of being a carpetbagger - he's lobbied in Washington the past 12 years - and was reminded of the 166 bad checks he wrote in the House Bank scandal.

Social conservatives spread the word that DeWine had left his wife for another woman. McEwen promoted himself as a man with a 29-year marriage.

DeWine, the front-runner early in the brief campaign, saw his stature plummet in the last few weeks. He finished fourth with just 12 percent of the vote.

The low numbers should keep anyone from assuming too much about the candidates' future, especially among the conservative movement, said Mark Weaver, a Columbus consultant who worked on DeWine's campaign.

''I don't think this race was a centerpiece of values. It's much too small a turnout to make any broad assumptions about politics in Ohio,'' Weaver said.

The negative campaigning between DeWine and McEwen helped Schmidt come through, said Phil Burress, a McEwen supporter and member of the Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values.

''Negative advertising in the 2nd (Congressional) District doesn't work. It turns people off,'' Burress said. ''When Pat went negative against Bob, it destroyed both of them.''

The similarities among McEwen, Schmidt and state Rep. Tom Brinkman of Cincinnati, another abortion opponent who finished third, made the race unpredictable, said the Rev. Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church in suburban Columbus.

''Any of those candidates would espouse the values that are central to what we're trying to accomplish,'' said Parsley, whose Center for Moral Clarity targets values voters.

Values voters in the past had emerged on issues or candidates they strongly agreed with, only to go away once the election was over. However, conservative Christians are working to ensure that their base is engaged up to the 2006 statewide elections, Parsley said.

''I think we finally began to learn from our mistakes. We will keep these folks energized and informed,'' he said.

John McCarthy is a correspondent for The Ohio Associated Press.