The unusually long march toward a Democratic presidential nominee continued today as Hillary Rodham Clinton looked to avoid her 12th consecutive loss to Barack Obama and Ohio elections officials prepared for potential record-breaking participation.
Primary election polls opened at 6:30 a.m. amid forecasts for freezing rain in Cleveland, where U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich faced a challenge to continue his 12-year tenure in the House tenure in his solidly Democratic district. Other primaries stood to help determine whether Republicans would keep their 11-to-7 advantage in the state’s U.S. House delegation.
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner predicted as many as 4 million voters would cast their ballot and as many as one in five would have voted early.
In Huron County, voters have three choices as to who will be the Republican candidate to run against Democrat Sharon Ward in a November general election race that will determine the successor for current County Commissioner Ralph Fegley, who decided not to seek a second term. The GOP hopefuls are Jim Ewell, Furey and Larry Silcox.
All county voters also are being asked whether to repeal a conveyance fee.
Voters in Willard and Shelby will join others in saying yea or nay on a Pioneer Career and Technology Center.
And Bronson Township voters in one precinct will decide whether Sunday sales of alcohol should be allowed at Eagle Creek.
Even before polls opened today, voting had already been under way for more than three weeks. In the first presidential primary election that didn’t require voters to give a reason for using absentee ballots, many Ohioans took advantage of the option.
“We don’t know if this is interest in the presidential race, or interest in absentee voting,” said Ben Piscitelli, spokesman for the Franklin County Board of Elections in Columbus. “So we will have to wait and see. But we’ll be ready.”
Across the state, officials coped with high levels of interest in the option. In central Ohio’s Franklin County, almost 120,000 people had asked for early ballots, and the board of elections’ doors remained open until 9 p.m. Monday to accommodate early voters.
Elsewhere, other early voting locations were packed, and Brunner predicted 52 percent of Ohio’s registered voters eventually would cast ballots.
Ohio is used to playing a role in presidential politics, but only in November. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio and only two Democrats have in recent history.
Ohio’s presidential primary typically comes well after the nominee is decided. But as Obama and Clinton have remained in a tight race for nominating delegates, Ohio’s contest is key.
Other races were overshadowed by the presidential contenders, but not forgotten.
Three incumbent Republicans were not seeking re-election to their U.S. House seats — Reps. Ralph Regula, David Hobson and Deborah Pryce. The posts could be vulnerable if the tide that swept Democrats to power in 2006 continued.
Half of the 10 GOP primaries for U.S. House seats were expected to be significant. In two of them, the winner will face a formidable Democratic challenger in November.
Across the aisle, six of the eight Democratic U.S. House primary contests were expected to be competitive, Kucinich’s chief among them.
He has struggled to keep his long-held seat after a second presidential campaign he abandoned as primary pressures mounted. Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman and Rosemary Palmer, the mother of a fallen soldier, were among his challengers.
Along Ohio’s eastern border, four Republicans competed for the right to challenge first-term U.S. Rep. Zack Space. The former law director was facing his own Democratic challenger, Navy veteran Mark Pitrone.
Even so, it was the presidential primary that dominated voters’ interest and TV airwaves.
Obama spent more than $5 million for TV ads in Ohio; Clinton almost $3 million. Both campaigns put efforts into building a get-out-the-vote organization in the state. The result was an unprecedented effort for a primary election.
Former President Clinton had said that his wife must win both Texas and Ohio to keep her campaign alive. But Monday, Hillary Clinton said that wasn’t the case and the campaign would go on.
“I’m just getting warmed up,” Clinton told reporters as she readied to leave Ohio for Texas, which also votes today. She was scheduled to return tonight to watch election results with supporters in Columbus.
Obama has won 11 straight contests, and leads in the Associated Press delegate count, 1,386-1,276. His margin is greater among delegates chosen in the primaries and caucuses, 1,187-1,035, while Clinton leads among party officials, known as superdelegates, 241-199.
Ohio polls were scheduled to remain open until 7:30 p.m. today.