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Parties debate benefit of Dems#8217; big city control

Following last week’s elections, the two parties agreed on only one thing: Democratic mayors now control all major cities in Ohio.

Democrats say it’s a huge positive, further solidifying their base as the 2008 presidential election approaches.

Republicans see a benefit too, targeting their opponents for all the problems in those cities, from poverty to crime to struggling schools.

GOP Chairman Bob Bennett provided a taste of the campaign to come the day after the election.

“Republicans continue to run strong in suburban, exurban and rural areas where our voters have moved out of the inner cities to avoid the festering school and safety problems being largely ignored by Democratic mayors,” he said.

That’s a message that could resonate with a large chunk of Ohio voters. According to exit polls, suburban residents accounted for about six in 10 votes cast in the 2006 Ohio election.

Republicans would love to hear Democratic mayors talking about what their cities need, said political analyst Tom Sutton.

“The suburbs will hear that and say, ‘Yeah, and that’s why we don’t live there anymore,”’ said Sutton, a professor at Baldwin-Wallace College.

That cities are largely Democratic strongholds is no secret, and the shift of Republican votes to the suburbs and beyond isn’t news either.

Yet it wasn’t that long ago in Ohio that either party could take political control of the large urban areas for granted.

In Columbus, Mayor Michael Coleman handily defeated his Republican opponent last week to begin his third term. Yet eight years ago, Coleman was the first Democrat to reach city hall in decades.

Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are considered overwhelmingly Democratic areas, yet Republican George Voinovich was mayor through the 1980s.

In Canton, Republican Janet Weir Creighton had been mayor since 2003, when the GOP took the seat with a massive get-out-the-vote effort.

That was the last major Ohio city without a Democrat in charge, a claim to fame state lawmaker William Healy ended Tuesday with a 53 percent to 47 percent victory.

Democrats also put a mayor in Lorain on Tuesday and held on to mayors’ offices in Columbus, Chillicothe and Mansfield. But they lost a long Democratic seat to the GOP in Newark in Republican-leaning Licking County.

Democrats were quick to focus on the wins in Canton and Lorain and the implication for next year.

“Democratic mayors now lead the 10 largest cities in Ohio,” said Chris Redfern, chairman of the state Democratic party. “The results show that the Ohio Democratic Party has the momentum going into 2008.”

On paper, the election showed continued Democratic success after two successive presidential elections in which Ohio voted for George W. Bush.

Last year, fatigue with Republican leadership nationally and a government corruption scandal at home helped Ohio Democrats win a U.S. Senate seat, four of five statewide offices and close the gap in the Ohio House.

Based on those results, Democrats are making too much of their success in cities, says Jim Trakas, a former state lawmaker from suburban Cleveland.

The 2006 victory of Gov. Ted Strickland, the first Democrat elected governor in 20 years, is much more significant because of his ability to raise money statewide from a variety of sources, said Trakas, an Independence Republican who left office because of term limits.

Like Bennett, Trakas believes Democrats will be vulnerable because of the problems in the cities they control.

Democratic strategist Dale Butland disagrees, saying each city’s political machine can add up to big results across Ohio. Butland also says Republicans should be careful who they blame for problems in the state, since they held all elected offices for more than a decade.

“We certainly can’t do any worse than what they’ve done,” Butland said.

Andrew Welsh-Huggins is a correspondent for the Ohio Associated Press.