Nov. 1, 2006 Interview with John McClelland, Communications Director for the Ohio Republican Party.

Democracy in Action:  Give us an overview of the campaigns in Ohio.

McClelland:  We're pretty excited about this next--well we're at six days now.  Our volunteer activity is going really strong.  A lot of people are very enthusiastic about our opportunities.  We believe that Democrats are getting a little bit too overconfident in what they think they might be able to accomplish.  It surely has been a real tough fight, tough battle this year, but what we're seeing, the activity among our grassroots and the energy that we're hearing from all over the state in every one of our 88 counties, we think that the Democrats might be surprised with the fight that we put up on November 7.

Democracy in Action:  How are things organized in the state?  You've got the 72 Hour program....

McClelland: difference to what the Democrats do, our grassroots organization, 72 Hour operation as it's traditionally been called, is I don't want to say completely centralized, but it's organized from here in Columbus and then working with our county parties in every county we have set up phone banks and door to door operations.  There are major centers, I guess you'd call them target counties, about 16 or 17 large locations where we have probably large numbers of volunteers coming into those phone banks, going into those specific counties, but in every one of our counties we have phone banks such as the one we're at right now.  Maybe some of the smaller counties there's only ten phones but they're being used constantly from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day.

Democracy in Action:  Is 72 Hours a misnomer?

McClelland:  That's what it was originally called because in the past you really focused all of your get out the vote operations on those last 72 hours, but especially here in Ohio with the change to no fault absentee voting you really have a 30 day window and so it's pushed everything back and so while its called 72 Hour the real work begins the day after the last election and really you're learning from the previous election.  But you start off there are phone and there's voter contact and a lot of I guess you want to call it--consumer id and gathering of--and we do the same thing that Citibank does when they gather consumer data; there's a lot of data gathering, a lot of phone calls to kind of find out what issues are important to people.

Democracy in Action:  What issues are important to people?

McClelland:  Well here in Ohio it's the same thing that people are seeing in a lot of places.  The economy continues to be a major issue, although the Democrats have come in here for the last three years and have just pounded on the Ohio economy, although it's doing actually fairly well.  We have lost a lot of manufacturing jobs in this state and that's because Ohio was a major manufacturing state for a long period of time.  The fact is we've been losing jobs in the manufacturing sector since the '70s but the Democrats have I think been somewhat successful in convincing people that the economy is in a shambles here in Ohio, and so we do explain to voters what the Republican Party has been doing in terms of tax reform and restructuring the business tax structure here in the state, investing in education and in new technologies so that we can help people transfer from the old manufacturing economy, where those jobs just aren't coming back, to more of the service sector which is really the future of our national economy frankly.

Democracy in Action:  Can you give a rundown on each of the races?  Governor?

McClelland:  The gubernatorial race is a real tough tight race.  Because Republicans have been so successful in Ohio for so long, people just seem to think this is a red state.  It's not.  We're a very competitive two-party state and we're seeing that not only in the race for governor, but the Senate race and all the House races that people are watching on the national level.  In the governor's race clear contrast between a candidate in Ken Blackwell who has promoted a vision and some pretty forward thinking ideas for how he wants to get Ohio's economy moving versus a candidate in Ted Strickland who's been content to basically stand on the sidelines and not really do or say much of anything because he has a lead in the polls.  That's part of where we believe the overconfidence is coming in.  Just because it's a tough environment to run in this year, the voters are smart enough to not just pull the lever for the Democrat because they're not the Republican.  And Ted Strickland spent 12 years in Congress doing nothing and he's spent this entire campaign doing nothing and we believe the voters, when they actually go to the voting booth and look at the two candidates and see an individual in Ken Blackwell who has been the mayor of a city, has been a UN Ambassador, has been a leader in state government versus a congressman who has no record at all to speak of in Washington, admittedly so on his own part, that Ohio needs leadership and the voters are going to make their decision based on that.

Democracy in Action:  Senate?

McClelland:  There could not be a clearer contrast between Republicans and Democrats than Mike DeWine and Sherrod Brown.  Start with the war on terror.  Senator DeWine has been a strong proponent of being aggressive in the war on terror, of taking the fight to the terrorists and giving our troops and our law enforcement the tools that they need to fight the war on terror.  Sherrod Brown has consistently stood in opposition to all of that.  There's no doubt in our minds that based on his record and based on his comments that he's made that Sherrod Brown as a United States Senator would make Ohioans and our country less safe.  That's not to question his love for his country; we question his understanding of the real stakes of the war on terror.  This is not just about Iraq; it's about the overall war on terror.  And so there's a stark contrast between the two.

The economy's another one.  Sen. DeWine has been consistent in his discussion about whether it's energy production or taxes that we need to be aggressive and forward thinking in how we approach moving our national economy and our state economy forward.  Sherrod Brown is an isolationist anti-free trader and his policies would set Ohio back, not forward.  And so we could go on down the line, but there's a clear contrast between the two and at the same time you see that's why it's close.  Ohio is a very competitive two party state.  We do believe the majority of Ohioans do side with us, that's why we've been successful for the last [inaud.] years.

Democracy in Action:  How about the Democratic claim that five House races are in play?

McClelland:  They're always in play.

Democracy in Action:  ...that they could pick up five House seats?

McClelland:  I mean I don't believe that.  But I mean if you watch CNN that's what they'll tell you too.  The five that people are saying are competitive are the 1st, which is Steve Chabot against John Cranley.

Democracy in Action:  What is your take on that one?

McClelland:  Steve Chabot has represented the Cincinnati area well for a good while in Congress and we see no reason for that seat to change.  What has changed in that district has been demographics more than anything...  Steve Chabot is a good representative for this district.

The second one would be the 6th District, which is the district that Ted Strickland is vacating.  That's an area that, look the national Democrats went in there and spent a lot of money to help Charlie Wilson.  He's from there.  Chuck Blaisdell's got a real uphill fight, the Republican.  We believe we can run strong there but it's been a district that's a district that's been represented by a Democrat for 12 years.

Next one would be the 13th which is the district Sherrod Brown is vacating.  We've got a great candidate up there...he's the major of Lorain, Craig Foltin.

Democracy in Action:  Democrats seem very confident about that one.

McClelland: Well it's been Sherrod Brown's district and it's heavily terms of make up, but what we like about Craig Foltin, what we think gives him a great opportunity to win is that he has been a Republican who has been able to win in a Democrat area.  He's been mayor of Lorain for quite a while now, has done a number of things to really get that city back on track and has given people the opportunity to see that even in an area that has been hit hard by the changing economy, the Republican policies work...  Betty Sutton, your traditional Democrat, and again we'd rather focus on the positives of Craig Foltin and what he can bring in terms of fresh ideas for a district that's been represented by a guy who really again another guy who's been completely ineffective in Congress over the last 14 years.

Democracy in Action:  How about some of the ones that are seen as more competitive?

McClelland:  Well 18th, which is the Bob Ney seat.  It's been a tough fight for Joy Padgett.  She came into the race late.  Zack Space has been aggressive in his campaigning.  National Democrats have spent a lot of money on him too.  We're confident in Joy's ability to--  she's bee a great State Senator from that area.  She has been hit with a lot of negative news recently because of a small business venture that did file bankruptcy and they're pounding her on it.  That one's going to be a real tight--

Democracy in Action:  How about this one--Deborah Pryce.

McClelland:  Deborah Pryce is in probably one of the toughest battles that she's had since she went to Congress, but we could run through a half hour laundry list of all the great things that she's done for this district.  And on the other side you have an anti-war candidate who of the first Ohioans to endorse Howard Dean for president and who has consistently voted to raise taxes on the people of Franklin County.  Mary Jo Kilroy.  Mary Jo is a liberal's liberal.  A lot of these candidates that the Democrats are throwing up this year are not in the traditional Democrats of the past.  They are the Democrats of Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi.  Again, yes, the environment has been a tough one for Republicans this year and in Ohio it's been especially tough, but the saying is "All politics is local."  If you look at the 15th District, if you really look at when the voters go in [continues...]