By Martin Wolk Executive business editor
msnbc.com
updated 10/6/2004 12:01:10 PM ET 2004-10-06T16:01:10
Reporter's notebook

LYNDHURST, Ohio, Oct. 2 — The rain is coming down in sheets and Ohio House candidate David Pomerantz is stuck inside a donut shop, waiting for a break in the weather to knock on doors and talk to voters.

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“I haven’t been out for three days, and I feel like I’m going through withdrawal,” he said.

Pomerantz is my best friend from childhood and a first-time Democratic candidate for public office, running an uphill battle against three-term incumbent Jim Trakas, chairman of the county Republican Party.

While he waited for the rain to stop, he drove through the eastern suburbs of Cleveland in his battered Jeep Grand Cherokee, planting yard signs and reflecting on 19 months of campaigning that included a tough primary victory.

“This is an unbelievably grueling experience,” he said. “I have been involved in major trials, and nothing compares to the amount of work that goes into running a campaign — and I’m just running for state representative. … It can be one of the most humbling experiences you’ll ever go through.”

Still, he has been heartened by the reception he has gotten from voters in the district, other politicians, and friends and families who have contributed money and time to the campaign.

“People are far more interested in local politics that I thought they were,” he said. “People want to talk to you. They want to talk about education, they want to talk about politics. They are very, very engaged in the presidential race.”

Pomerantz is running in one of the most affluent districts in the state but said the long economic downturn has taken a toll even here, with many well-qualified workers unable to find jobs.

But driving past wealthy subdivisions of sprawling homes, and seeing glitzy new shopping villages with their upscale stores and restaurants, you would never guess you are less than 10 miles from the poorest big city in the country with its 31 percent poverty rate.

It’s a dichotomy that worries Pomerantz and many of his supporters.

“Many people have said to me, ‘Don’t just fix our school system — fix the city of Cleveland school system, because if the city schools go down, the city of Cleveland is going down and we’re all going down.’ They understand the interdependence of the communities.”

Pomerantz already has raised — and spent — more than $100,000 on the campaign, and he knows that the hardest part is still to come. On a good day, he gets home at 9 or 10 at night. Other nights he is up past midnight, driving around the district planting more yard signs.

“There is an excitement about being in politics, even at the local level,” he said. But he misses spending time with his wife and three children, is neglecting his legal practice and is  exhausted.

“I just want it to be over,” he said. “I’m counting the hours.”

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Sept. 30 – If you spend any time at all in Ohio during this presidential election season, you are highly likely to cross paths with one of the four “principals” running for office, as campaign aides say. It happened to us Thursday night when Sen. John Edwards touched down in Columbus for a late-night post-debate rally in a park on the Scioto River.

Before the rally, more than 2,000 union members, teachers, college students and other Kerry supporters lined the stone steps of Genoa Park and spread blankets on the lawn to view the debate on a Jumbotron screen in a highly partisan setting.

Tom Peet, 54, a passionate high school history teacher from suburban Westerville, expressed a widespread feeling when he said the debate was a must-win for Kerry. “If he loses tonight, you can kiss this election goodbye,” Peet said. “If he wins, it’s still a tough road.”

Crowd members left no doubt about who they thought came out on top in the debate, responding with lusty cheers to Kerry zingers and pouncing when Bush paused too long or corrected himself after a mental slip.

After the debate, a hip-hop band called Ordinary Peoples whipped up the crowd with a rap about John Kerry, offering a welcome excuse for many to clap, wave and warm up as a chilly breeze came off the river and the silver disk of the moon rose over the stage.

Several elected officials offered their own post-debate analysis, mostly urging the crowd to vote Democratic “from the White House to the courthouse,” as one put it. But the pros left it up to 9-year-old Essence Cheatom of Columbus to introduce Edwards.

Impossibly lovely and composed, the founder of the Kids for Kerry club at Duxberry Park Elementary School hit the mark and aced her lines. “They call me Madame President,” she revealed, before adding her endorsement of Kerry’s plans for the war in Iraq, health care and the economy.

Edwards came bounding up the riverside walkway and onto the stage, flashing his electric smile and taking the microphone shortly after 11 p.m. Then he told the Ohio voters what they never seem to tire of hearing.

“This is the most important election of our lifetime, and you all — all of us tonight — we’re in ground zero of this election,” he said. “This state is so important. You are going to play such a role in choosing who the next president of the United States is going to be.”

As multicolored confetti blew up into the night sky over the stage, Edwards whipped off his suit jacket and waded into the crowd.

TOLEDO, Ohio, Sept. 29 — You never know what you might find out when you get people to start talking politics.

Searching for potential voters, we were directed by a political insider to West Toledo’s "Library Village,” a racially diverse neighborhood of small but tidy houses described as one of the city’s swing districts. With almost no car traffic in the early evening, a knot of children gathered in the middle of an intersection, gradually roaming down the street on foot and bicycles.

We found supporters of both Bush and Kerry as well as undecided voters, but not always where we expected them. One house seemed like a sure bet for Kerry with its Kerry-Edwards lawn sign, but Troy Rittner, 23, surprised us by declaring, “I don’t vote.” He then surprised us further by describing “all politicians” with an unusual profanity that he may have invented.

Turns out the sign was planted by his housemate Mike, a striking young man with a shaved head and razor-thin sideburns who declined to give his last name. Mike volunteered that he intended to vote for Kerry, describing Bush as “evil” and spinning a well-worn conspiracy theory about the true culprits behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Just down the street was an even more striking-looking resident named John Cappelletty, 39, who turned out to be the drummer in a rising local rock band, Fetish Doll. (He “doesn’t just play the drums, he pounds them into oblivion,” according to the band’s Web site.) Cappelletty had a previous brush with fame in a 1980s band and certainly had the look of a metal rocker with his spiked hair, leather apparel, facial piercings, tattoos and a wispy goatee.

But his chemically enhanced partying days are over, he told us, saying he had gotten sober two years ago and turned his life around. His wife left him about a year ago, and as the single father of a 10-year-old boy he needed job security and especially health care benefits. So he recently got a job as a unionized laborer, specializing in concrete brick and block work.

“For me, right now, business is good,” he said, and it probably will be for years to come, given the orange construction barrels that are ubiquitous in the city and the massive $200 million interstate bridge being built over the Maumee River, scheduled for completion in 2007.

Cappelletty is still undecided on the election but is leaning toward Bush, saying he likes the president’s straightforward style. “I do know that when Bush says he’s going to do something, he does it,” Cappelletty said.

ELYRIA, Ohio, Sept. 28 — In many ways, this reporting trip to the battleground state of Ohio is a homecoming for me, back to the state where I was born and began my career in journalism.

First stop, after visiting my parents, was the Chronicle-Telegram, the small daily newspaper near Cleveland where I cut my teeth as a reporter. Nearly 20 years after I moved on, the place is surprisingly familiar, from the off-kilter awards mounted on the corridor walls to the anachronistic morgue for old newspaper clippings. The newsroom was perhaps a bit cleaner and brighter, possibly because smoking is now banned.

But if changes have been modest inside the yellow brick building, they have been steady and relentless just outside the doors. Editor Andrew Young ticks off factory after factory that has shifted work abroad or closed forever, including the impending shutdown of the massive Ford assembly plant in nearby Lorain.

Just in the past three years, service industries have surpassed manufacturing as the leading source of jobs in Lorain County, Young said.

“And I don’t think manufacturing is coming back,” he said. “It’s certainly not going to be the leading job category anymore. And of course manufacturing jobs are higher paying than service sector jobs.”

Meanwhile, the population is growing in the eastern portion of the county, where cheaper home prices and lower taxes are attracting commuters from Cleveland. The county is rapidly losing its identity as an industrial base separate from the greater metropolitan Cleveland area.

With the shift to a bedroom community comes an “increasing trend toward Republicanism,” Young said. The county has long been dominated by Democrats but this year’s election could mark a watershed with the possibility that Republicans could win two out of the three seats on the county’s board of commissioners, he said.

Another major change: a growing Hispanic population, especially in Lorain, which is now more than 20 percent Hispanic, said Managing Editor Patti Ewald. This week, the Chronicle-Telegram published a story on efforts to get out the vote of the increasingly potent group. And for probably the first time in its 175-year history, the newspaper published the story in both English and Spanish.

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