Republicans battle with TV ads

By Alan Johnson and Catherine Candisky KRT

As a $3 million aerial bombardment began yesterday in the Republican gubernatorial race, American Idol appears to be a safe haven for Ohio TV viewers, but fans of Cops, Wheel of Fortune and news shows should take cover.

Likewise, Fox Network viewers be warned: You’re the bull’s-eye in this GOP shootout.

The increasingly acrimonious contest between Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell and Attorney General Jim Petro erupts on television screens statewide in the two weeks before the May 2 primary.

The most-recent Dispatch Poll showed Blackwell had an 11-point lead, with Petro needing to win two-thirds of the undecided vote to pull even.

Each camp will spend an estimated $1.5 million during the next 15 days trying to win the hearts and votes of Ohio Republicans.

“I have no doubt this will be the most expensive gubernatorial primary in Ohio history, and most of those dollars will be spent on television,” said Mark R. Weaver, a GOP consultant not affiliated with either candidate.

As the front-runner, Blackwell must reinforce his message that he will bring change, while Petro “has a lot of ground to cover,” Weaver said. “He needs to make up a lot of points, and I expect to see him on the attack.”

This is not good news to Ohio GOP Chairman Robert T. Bennett, who had hoped to broker a peaceful settlement between his candidates. Instead, he must watch a winner emerge bloodied and nearly broke entering what many already predict will be a strong Democratic year.

“It’s never good when Republicans are spending money against other Republicans,” Bennett said. “It’s clear neither one of the gubernatorial candidates have hit the 50 percent mark.”

He said he hopes Blackwell and Petro “do it the right way” and avoid harsh attacks.

However, he’s not worried about the cost, in part because, he said, U.S. Ted Strickland, of Lisbon, the front-running Democratic candidate for governor, already has spent an estimated $1.5 million on TV.

“We’re going to be able to reload pretty fast,” Bennett added. “This election is like 2004. Ohio is a targeted state.”

Both campaigns are preparing for an all-out sprint in the final two weeks.

William C. Binning, a Youngstown State University political scientist and former Mahoning County Republican chairman, agreed that Blackwell is ahead, but said Petro is “making a little movement now.”

He said recent news stories about Blackwell’s investments hurt and suggested that might be an area where he is vulnerable to a Petro attack.

“He’s got to knock Blackwell down a little bit,” Binning said.

The candidates have purchased TV ads in the biggest markets, but Binning added, “You would think Columbus would be the place you would go fishing.”