The midwestern state of Ohio was a key battleground state in the 2004 election. President George Bush ultimately won the state, a victory that assured his second term in office. Now, two years later, Ohio is once again in the spotlight as voters are leaning toward electing Democrats for local and national office.
It is daybreak in Cincinnati -- one day closer to the pivotal November 7 elections.
Amid reminders of past campaigns, political reporter Howard Wilkinson and the staff at the Cincinnati Enquirer gear up to cover what is now a closely fought election. "This is a state that is pretty much split down the middle between Republicans and Democrats. Elections here are usually close, and are usually decided by a small handful of independent voters -- people who don't identify with one party or another."
Yet Wilkinson believes Democrats have several advantages this year. A sex scandal involving Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley and a corruption scandal involving prominent Ohio Republican politicians are hurting the party's chances in this mid-term election. Wilkinson says these scandals make it difficult for fellow Republicans in the race for Governor, Congress, Senate, and numerous seats in the state legislature.
"The Democrats have got to be feeling very good about themselves. They look like they're going to take over the state house, they look like they're going to pick up some Congressional seats, it looks like a very good Democratic year. Not just because of what's happening in Washington, but because of things that have happened in recent years in Ohio. You know -- some scandal and corruption, and a sluggish economy, and all those things are working for the Democrats."
Political Editor Carl Weiner adds, while issues like Iraq and Mark Foley dominate the headlines, specific issues like jobs and health care are on the minds of many voters. "We also have a proposal on the ballot to raise the minimum wage. It seems to have galvanized a lot of people. It's very popular. It seems like there's going to be a very big surge of people to come out and give themselves a pay raise."
Weiner says the minimum wage proposal is partially designed to help bring out more Democratic Party voters. It's a similar tactic the Republicans used on another issue in Ohio two years ago during the Presidential election -- a referendum to ban gay marriage.
The issue motivated politically conservative evangelical Republicans to go the polls, thanks to efforts by ministers like Lawrence Bishop. "The biggest issue would be abortion, and another would be the laws that they're trying to pass, the laws about marrying between a man and a woman. We believe it should be between a man and a woman. That's because the bible simply says it's an abomination to do otherwise. God said it was an abomination to spill innocent blood, and that covers abortion. So these are very, very important. For me they're number one, the rest can follow."
Bishop is the influential head of the 5,000-member congregation of Solid Rock Church, easily identified on a highway outside Cincinnati by its tall "Touchdown Jesus" statue.
The state motto in Ohio is "With God, All Things Are Possible." It is a Midwestern state where mega-churches like Solid Rock are growing in popularity and influence.
The members of Bishop's congregation are typically conservative, and generally support the platform of the Republican Party. They helped President Bush defeat Democratic Party presidential candidate John Kerry here two years ago.
Minister Bishop says religious beliefs may be influential. "Whether it was because of the churches here and the strong Christian beliefs, that might have had something to do with it."
But a top local Democrat, Tim Burke, thinks courting the religious right in this election year might backfire on the Republicans. "I think it's frightening people and I think it's helping our Democratic candidate."
Democrats, like Burke, hope it is one of many issues that will help swing the political pendulum in their favor when voters head to the polls on November 7.