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Monday, August 01, 2005

OH-02: Weekend Update

Posted by Bob Brigham

It is a beautiful morning in the Village of Batavia in Ohio's 2nd Congressional District where I am embedded with the Paul Hackett campaign. For those of you who unplugged over the weekend, here's a quick recap to get you up to speed on what has been going on to prepare for Tuesday's vote.

Yesterday, the big story was the Noe Schmidt Scandal that blew wide open. A front page story in the Cincinnati Enquirer says:

A few hours later, Hackett was standing in front of TV cameras at the Hamilton County Courthouse downtown, refuting Schmidt's statement on Channel 12's "Newsmakers" program that she had "never met" and "wouldn't recognize" Thomas Noe, the Republican campaign contributor at the heart of the state GOP's Coingate' scandal.

Hackett produced minutes of a March 2002 Ohio Board of Regents meeting that indicates that then-state representative Schmidt had met with the regents, whose membership at the time included Noe.

"She seems to have a very selective memory," Hackett said.

When the scandal lead the evening news, Hackett was quoted as referring to Jean Schmidt as the Poster Child for the Culture of Corruption. The story was all over the blogs with around a quarter of a million people reading about it by sundown.

As the sun set, the blogosphere turned to an Editor and Publisher story:

The Blade of Toledo, Ohio, is on top of the news- paper world, thanks to its "Coingate" reports (see p. 34). But while the paper is rightly thumping its chest with each new revelation, it's also coming under some scrutiny — not for what it has printed, but for what it may not have. Rumors swirl around a veteran Blade scribe, former political reporter Fritz Wenzel. Nothing at all is proven, but it's worth recalling the dangers — even if it's just in public perception — of jumping from political campaigning to political reporting and back again.

Wenzel, a longtime GOP campaign worker in Oregon, spent 10 years on the Blade politics beat before returning to the world of political consulting in May, virtually the day after he left the paper. One of the key contacts he made along the way was the man now at the center of the Coingate accusations, Tom Noe, a major Republican fund-raiser who attended the wedding of Wenzel's son, P.J., a state GOP employee. Noe's wife, Bernadette, even praised Wenzel during a GOP Lincoln Day Dinner this spring. "It was obvious that [Wenzel] was a Republican, he never hid the fact," Dennis Lang, interim chair of the Lucas County Republican Central Committee, told me last month. "But his work stayed in neutral ground."

Not according to the Lucas County Democratic Party, which devoted a page on its Web site to blasting Wenzel for alleged inaccuracy and bias. Suspicions about partisan leanings were further fueled when Wenzel signed on as media strategist for Jean Schmidt, the GOP nominee for an open Cincinnati-area congressional seat that voters will fill in a special August election (she won a primary on June 14). Disclosure records show Wenzel received $30,000 from Schmidt's campaign on May 16, the day his last column for the paper appeared, and three days after he left the Blade. He got another $30,000 from those coffers a week later, according to records. Part of the money went to media buys.

Wenzel's career change also renewed rumors, so far unsubstantiated, that his ties to Noe and the GOP may help explain why he not only failed to uncover Coingate but also a related Noe scandal involving alleged illegal funneling of contributions to President Bush's 2004 campaign. Several Blade editors told me they'd heard rumors that Wenzel learned as early as January 2004 about a federal investigation into Noe's alleged illegal donations, none of which emerged in the press until this past spring.

The big news on Saturday was the giant Hackett mobilization which I liveblogged. Grow Ohio had much, much more. This followed the a field guy blogs post that was all over the blogs Friday afternoon.

The energy here is amazing, head over to Grow Ohio for pics.

The blogs are all over this race and the netroots fundraising is amazing.

Tim Tagaris will be arriving later in the day and we'll have all kinds of stuff going up -- so stay tuned. Or better yet, do whatever it takes to get down here and help!

Posted at 08:53 AM in Ohio | Technorati