Democrats focus on employment

Adam Milasincic

Strickland preaches change to Ravenna

Gubernatorial candidate Ted Strickland exits his Sportsmen for Strickland R.V. to a crowd of about 200 in front of the Ravenna Courthouse Saturday afternoon. In his speech, Strickland, blasted the leadership in Columbus as “inept, incompetent, corrupt and

Credit: Jason Hall

Ted Strickland’s call for a new Ohio whipped up a quasi-religious clamor Saturday in Ravenna, where nearly 200 Portage County Democrats cheered the former minister’s pledge to create jobs, boost school funding and undo the legacy of retiring Gov. Bob Taft.

Strickland’s 45-minute stay in Ravenna was part of a day-long campaign swing from Steubenville to Columbus.

The “Turn Around Ohio” rally at times strayed from the usual script of the Democrat’s match-up with Republican candidate Ken Blackwell.

As his speech ended, Strickland pulled to stage a young guitarist, who appeared perplexed and a bit nervous as he led the crowd in an impromptu rendition of “God Bless America.”

Church-themed music punctuated both ends of the event, which at times conjured images of an old-time revival with Strickland as Billy Sunday. A children’s choir sang “Our God is an awesome God,” and Portage County Commissioner Chuck Keiper – sporting a salt-and-pepper beard and an American flag tie -ÿevoked 1960s folk tunes with a self-written ballad decrying “enhanced trade regulations.”

Though ordained in the normally subdued Methodist denomination, Strickland sounded every bit the pulpit-pounder as his voice, with a slight Appalachian tinge, bounced from the walls of the nearby Riddle Block buildings.

“We’ve had a political leadership in Columbus that has been inept, incompetent, corrupt and in some cases illegal, and we’ve had enough! We’ve had enough!” Strickland shouted. “Ohioans deserve better. They deserve better than what they’ve gotten from the Taft/Blackwell regime.”

Black United Students president Sasha Parker attended the rally and called its tone a welcome departure from the staid offerings of most political theater.

“I think this plays into (Strickland’s) attitude and his persona about the way he wants to turn around Ohio,” Parker said. “He’s very enthusiastic about it, and this rally was just an extension of that.”

In his public remarks and advertisements, the candidate has emphasized his impoverished childhood (the family lived for a time in a chicken shed) in calling for more spending on schools, job training and social welfare programs. Most of all, Strickland and allies across the state are quick to seize on voter anger over Taft’s guilty plea to ethics violations.

“I think that (Democratic) chances are excellent this year,” said Carol O’Laughlin, a volunteer who helped organize the Strickland visit. “I feel that there is a lot of disillusionment. You pick up the paper, and you can see that everyday.”

A middle-aged man, clad in a Chicago White Sox T-shirt, seemed to agree. The man let loose his condemnations of the Republican administration to any bystander who would listen.

“Get rid of Governor Shaft, man!” he yelled, scanning for nods of approval. “He screwed me over on worker’s comp. Big time!”

Although Strickland and other rally speakers repeatedly sought to tap angst from students over high tuition costs – Ohio received an “F” on that front in a national education study released Thursday – college-aged faces accounted for few in the crowd.

“It would be nice if people were more worried about getting progressives into office instead of about their Facebook privacy settings,” said Pat Bensi, a Kent State freshman and College Democrats member. “At the same time, it is Saturday (at noon), and I’d probably still be asleep if I wasn’t here.”

Contact public affairs reporter Adam Milasincic at [email protected].