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Ohio Politics

To err is human on campaign lit

By admin Published: October 28, 2010

By Stephanie Warsmith
Beacon Journal staff writer

''Vote Nov. 4.''

Anyone who follows that advice would miss this year's general election.

But that's what voters are instructed to do in a recent campaign piece that two local state legislative candidates distributed in advance of the Nov. 2 election.

The flier, given by Zack Milkovich and Frank Comunale to more than 10,000 voters, contained three other errors: a wrong date for the start of early voting and two misspellings.

Some have called the flier one of the worst campaign pieces in recent history, but it's far from the only goof that has raised eyebrows — and likely irritated local grammarians — in this election season.

Here are a few others:

• The Ohio Republican Party sent out a mailer highlighting statewide and local candidates that listed Gloria Rodgers as running for Summit County judge. She's actually hoping to win an at-large county council seat.

• Ilene Shapiro, who is running to protect her at-large Summit County Council seat, has three billboards that proclaim she's ''a businesswoman that makes a difference.'' Grammar sticklers will tell you it should read ''who'' instead of ''that'' — unless Shapiro is referring to herself as a thing.

• The Portage County Tea Party handed out 35,000 door knockers with photos and pictures of the statewide and local candidates the group is endorsing. The piece listed David Yost, the GOP candidate for Ohio auditor the group is back

ing, but included a photograph of David Pepper, his Democratic opponent. The candidates look somewhat similar but are distinguishable.

Though factual and grammatical mistakes aren't new to this election — local politicians look back with horror to when they misspelled public (forgetting the 'l'), committee (comittee) and ballot (ballet) — the blunders appear more abundant in this campaign cycle.

John Green, director of the University of Akron's Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, said this likely is a reflection of the large number of competitive races, from the top of the ticket down to the local level. He said candidates know they need to proofread material six or seven times and make sure several people look it over, but that doesn't always happen.

''Given the pressure of campaigns, either the precautions are not taken or the mistake just slips by,'' he said.

Green and his political science counterparts at other universities think the frequency of errors also might be rising because of the increased use of computers and social media, which help with speed but not necessarily accuracy.

Green, a nationally known political pundit, found himself the victim of a blunder in 2008, when U.S. Sen. John McCain's campaign ran a photograph of him as one of its advisers. The real adviser was another John Green, but UA's Green received a deluge of shocked phone calls and e-mails.

''It was one of those interesting mistakes,'' he said. ''I got a good laugh out of it.''

Whether campaign errors matter depends on whether the candidate still is able to deliver his or her message effectively despite the blunder, Green said.

Shapiro, an experienced politician who many speculate might run for a higher office, thinks her billboard communicated her campaign message, even though it wasn't grammatically correct. She didn't realize the text contained an error — wording it in this fashion so it didn't sound like she was the only businesswoman capable of making ''a difference.''

''I guess I need to bone up on my possessives,'' she said, which wasn't her billboard's error.

She then admitted, ''I don't know what the correct grammar term is.''

Shapiro hopes people passing her billboards on West Market Street, state Route 8 and Tallmadge Avenue either won't notice her grammar faux pas or won't care.

''Most people realize silly stuff happens,'' she said. ''It's just life.''

Those who make lapses in campaign materials sometimes take steps to correct them.

When the Ohio Republican Party discovered its misprint in the piece that referred to Rodgers as a judicial candidate, the party called her to discuss possible remedies. Ultimately, the party mailed out a postcard featuring the names and photographs of Rodgers and the two other GOP council candidates.

''It didn't really upset me,'' said Rodgers, who currently is county council's District 3 representative and the lone Republican. ''I thought, 'Our names are going to be out there.' ''

Candidates or groups, however, sometimes don't take steps to correct errors, because they don't think it will make a difference — or they can't afford it.

A countywide mailing — including the design, printing and postage — currently runs about $20,000 in Summit. A billboard costs about $1,000 for a month.

The Portage County Tea Party handed out the 35,000 door hangers it had printed with the Yost-Pepper goof. The group corrected the mixup when it printed another 35,000.

Tom Zawistowski, the executive director of the active group, said the group would have thrown out the piece if the name had been wrong, but didn't think it was necessary with only the picture being incorrect — especially because few people knew the difference.

''Quite honestly, I didn't think it was a big deal,'' he said. ''The only people who noticed were politicians.''

Milkovich, a first-time candidate running for the 45th Ohio House District, distributed about 10,000 copies of this joint campaign piece with Comunale, even after the errors were discovered. He said he didn't have enough campaign funds to chuck the piece.

''We are a mom-and-pop campaign,'' said Milkovich, who scored an upset in the Democratic primary, beating John Otterman. ''We didn't have it in the budget. We had to move on and do our best to explain to people.''

The piece also says early voting starts Oct. 4 (it was Sept. 28), misspells ''permanently'' and identifies Comunale as a member of Summit ''Country'' Council.

Comunale, a more seasoned politician than Milkovich who is in a hotly contested race for the 27th Ohio Senate seat, takes responsibility for the gaffes. He said he had the piece printed by a third party but should have been more on top of its content.

''I don't want to be in any way confusing the voter,'' he said. ''It's my fault.''

Comunale said he stopped distributing the piece when he saw the errors, and the two candidates eventually put out a corrected version. He said the piece — though error-filled — wasn't malicious, and he doesn't expect it to sway the election.

''In other races, I have seen a wide range of horrible lies on both sides,'' he said. ''In the pantheon of blame placing, I don't think this compares.''

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or

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