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Democrats Prepare for Square-Off at City Club

Wednesday, April 19, 2006 at 7:52 AM

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All polls in the Democratic race for Governor show U.S. Congressman Ted Strickland and his running mate Lee Fisher, far ahead of former Ohio Legislator Brian Flannery and running mate Frank Stams. But some uncertainty remains. The number of undecided voters varies, up to almost 50%. Today (April 19), the two candidates will face off in a debate at the City Club of Cleveland. ideastream's Lisa Ann Pinkerton has a look at what we can expect.

In the Democratic Race for Governor, both candidates say the key to improving Ohio’s economy is a stronger educational system. But they have different approaches to educating Ohioans. Candidate Brian Flannery wants to redirect Ohio lottery money currently going to primary and secondary schools, to fund college scholarships. Then he’d shift some state Medicaid money over to fund primary and secondary education. But his main aim is to cut property taxes by $1 billion.

Brian Flannery: We’re sick of school levees. I’ll end the school levees as we know it; I will provide significant property tax relief and fix the school funding, which no one including Lee Fisher and Ted Strickland have offered any solution.

Flannery’s property tax plan emerged as a result of the 1997 Ohio Supreme Court case that declared the current school funding system unconstitutional and ordered the state to fix it. His plan hasn’t picked up any significant endorsements from politicians or educators.

Ted Strickland, on the other hand, says he want to prepare children to become students before they reach school age. He’d also like to see all-day kindergarten and increase the number of students in Ohio’s colleges and universities. But his details for the primary and secondary education funding problems still remain vague. He’d also like to give businesses with free worker training if they provide guaranteed jobs.

Ted Strickland: Lee and I are determined to do the hard work to build an economic future for this state that is lasting and solid. And in order to do that we need to the hard work it building our educational system and improving it and making it accessible and higher education affordable.

Strickland, a U.S. Congressman from rural Southern Ohio, has been the front runner since the start of the Democratic Gubernatorial campaign and he’s steadily widened his lead on Flannery. He also has more money and more prominent endorsements. As of the last filing date in January, Strickland had around $3 million in his war chest. Flannery had raised only $89,000.

Dr. Steven Brooks, an analyst at the University of Akron, says Flannery remains an underdog, single issue candidate. And that makes his campaign an uphill struggle.

Steven Brooks: Attention and money usually go to the front runner, and it is difficult to convince people that are interested in funding you to support someone that is difficult to see that they are going to win.

Brooks is the associate director at the Bliss Institute in Akron, one of many organizations to publish polls of this year’s primary races. In a USAToday Poll, 60% of voters interviewed at the beginning of the month favored Strickland over Flannery. But Brooks says with undecided voters around 25% in, the race isn’t over.

Today at the City Club of Cleveland, each candidate will have 12 minutes total to give an opening speech and respond to what the other has said. Then they’ll face questions from the audience. Brooks says this unpredictable format could lend an advantage to Flannery, if Strickland flounders.

Steven Brooks: But if there is nothing really to change the perception of undecided voters, a good rule of thumb is that they will probably break pretty much the same way as the decided voters. But you never know.

Both candidates will head back out on the road tomorrow. And as the May 2nd Primary quickly approaches, more Northeast Ohio televisions will be peppered with TV adds from both candidates. Though the number of ads Flannery can buy will be hindered by his small war chest.

Lisa Ann Pinkerton, 90.3.

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