EDITOR’S NOTE _ This is the second in an occasional series on potential running mates for
EDITOR’S NOTE _ This is the second in an occasional series on potential running mates for presumptive GOP nominee Bob Dole
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Ohio Gov. George Voinovich’s value as a vice presidential candidate might lie less in what he would attract to the Republican ticket as in what he wouldn’t: negative attention.
The low-key chief executive from the important Midwest battleground combines an ``aw shucks″ image with a reputation as master of detail.
It doesn’t hurt that he runs the nation’s seventh-most populous state, which holds 21 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, and that he was the first Republican governor to endorse Sen. Bob Dole for the Republican presidential nomination.
In a race where character is likely to be an issue, ``George has a closet that has absolutely no skeletons in it,″ said State GOP Chairman Robert Bennett, who lobbied for Voinovich in a letter to Dole.
Bennett said Republicans have no fear that the deeply religious Voinovich will embarrass them with marital _ or extramarital _ problems. Voinovich, 59, and his wife, Janet, have been married for 33 years, and she frequently accompanies him on official trips.
On the abortion issue, Voinovich, like Dole, is against the procedure except in cases of incest, rape and when a mother’s life is at stake.
If there’s a knock against Voinovich, it’s his often-wooden, sometimes rambling, speaking style. A Dole-dull ticket might not play outside the industrial heartland.
``He’s a little bit of a square,″ concedes Curt Steiner, chief of staff for Ohio’s House Republicans and one of the architects of Voinovich’s successful 1990 and 1994 gubernatorial races.
But, Steiner quickly adds, ``He’s a very known quantity.″
One thing he might like voters to forget: a $400 million tax boost he approved in December 1992. His critics dubbed him ``Rockefeller Voinovich″ for extending the sales tax to services such as temporary employment agencies and health club memberships, imposing a soft drink tax that was later repealed by voters and increasing the top income tax bracket.
Voinovich has made other missteps as well.
While Dole and other GOP leaders were trying to score points with voters by calling for a repeal of a portion of the federal gasoline tax, Voinovich chided them for failing to keep their eye on the balanced budget.
The Ohio governor also parted ways with the party over concealed weapons and affirmative action. On set-asides for government contracts, Voinovich proposed basing them on economic and social disadvantage rather than on race. Most conservatives want to scrap them altogether.
``It would be nice to know who the real George Voinovich is,″ said state Democratic Chairman David Leland.
Steiner says Voinovich is unfazed by criticism from Democrats or Republicans. ``Getting attacked from within his own party doesn’t bother him,″ Steiner says. ``Every time someone takes a pot shot at him at the national level, he smiles.″
Voinovich’s ethnic Catholic background and nearly 30-year political career that began in 1967 as a member of the Ohio House and included a 10-year stint as mayor of Democrat-heavy Cleveland could prove critical to winning moderate Republicans and Reagan Democrats, political analysts say. No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio.
Voinovich dismisses such vice presidential talk in public. ``I have no idea who Bob Dole is going to select as his running mate,″ he says.
But, like nearly all veep prospects, he does nothing to discourage supporters carrying on a shadow campaign for the No. 2 slot.
A 12-minute video, sent last year to 1,500 party officials and insiders, was intended to promote Voinovich’s plan to unseat Sen. John Glenn in 1998, but now his supporters are showing it with Washington in mind.
``If that promotes him for vice president, so be it,″ Steiner said.