George Voinovich's grandparents immigrated from Croatia
State Lawmaker Challenges Voinovich For US Senate Seat
Voinovich's grandparents immigrated from Croatia
Voinovich (R) | Fingerhut (D)
Reported by: A.P.
Web produced by: Neil Relyea
Photographed by: 9News
10/24/04 11:09:51 PM
A senator with millions of dollars and a well-known name is being challenged November 2 by a state lawmaker whose campaign included a walk across Ohio.
Democrat Eric Fingerhut acknowledges that he's at a disadvantage against Republican George Voinovich, a former two-term governor and mayor of Cleveland who raised $9.5 million for the race. "I understand what we're up against," he said.
Fingerhut, a state senator from the Cleveland area who has accrued just $1.1 million, says the election is about whether voters want the status quo or a change.
"In some respects, Senator Voinovich and I agree about what this election is about. It's about jobs. What we disagree about is that Senator Voinovich thinks that things are heading in the right direction, and I don't," Fingerhut said in an interview with The Associated Press.
To Voinovich, the race is about the economy and protecting America from terrorism. He says the national economy is improving, as recent data indicate, and Ohio needs his experience to get back on track.
"What I am doing is bringing new thoughts to these areas. I understand what needs to be done," Voinovich told the AP. "I'm the change agent."
America's payrolls continued to increase in September, with the economy adding 96,000 jobs, but the nation is still down 821,000 jobs since President Bush took office in 2001.
Ohio's unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in August, compared to a national rate of 5.4 percent the last two months.
In the Senate, Voinovich has supported a clean air bill that won't put power companies out of business, a highways bill he says would create jobs in Ohio and a new federal office focusing on manufacturing.
He was among four senators to oppose Bush's plan to enact a tax cut larger than $350 billion over 10 years, unless spending could be reduced to pay for it.
Voinovich says the lower tax cut has helped to foster some economic recovery and is an example of his fiscal discipline. Critics said the final package relied on budget gimmickry and really was larger than Voinovich had pledged to allow.
Fingerhut has criticized Voinovich for supporting any size of tax cut, saying it has added to the country's deficit. He says Ohio's economy isn't on solid ground yet.
Voinovich acknowledged the lagging state economy but said it would be worse without the tax cut.
"We've seen some really significant growth in our economy," he said. "A lot of Ohioans still don't feel too good about things, but in terms of most of Americans, we have come a long way."
Fingerhut's economic plan includes giving tax relief to recent college graduates and people who invest in startup businesses, continuing a tax credit for research and development and increasing government funding for higher education.
Though he has less campaign money, Fingerhut says he has widespread support because of several grass-roots tactics, such as walking 335 miles across the state and working for a couple of hours at the Original Sub Shop & Deli in Toledo.
His campaign also got a lift when trash talk show host Jerry Springer decided last year against running, guaranteeing an easy primary and drawing early attention to the contest.
Both candidates know what it's like for working-class families to make ends meet.
Fingerhut, 45, is the grandson of immigrants from Hungary and Eastern Russia and son of an insurance agent and a secretary. After his father died, he used his Social Security survivor benefits to become the first in his family to attend college.
As a lawyer he worked with Cleveland's welfare program and legal aid clinic. Fingerhut won his first election to the state Senate in 1991 and a seat in the U.S. House the following year, at age 33. He lost re-election two years later to Republican Rep. Steven LaTourette.
Fingerhut attributes the loss to several controversial votes, including one on an assault weapons ban that expired this year. He also cast a pivotal vote to help pass President Clinton's 1993 deficit-reduction bill, which included some unpopular tax increases.
"There's no shame in losing an election when you did the right thing," Fingerhut said.
Voinovich's grandparents immigrated from Croatia, and he grew up in a big family. He was elected to the Ohio House in 1966, at age 30, and to the U.S. Senate in 1998.
A win would make Voinovich the second Republican senator re-elected in Ohio since the 1950s. Sen. Mike DeWine was the first, in 2000. Voinovich, 68, wouldn't say whether this will be his last race for public office.
Meanwhile, Fingerhut has brushed off questions about whether the race is about building name recognition and an organization to run for governor or attorney general in 2006.
"I'm flattered, but I'll be busy in 2006 because I'll be Ohio's newest U.S. senator," he said.