23.4.06

FOURTH TURNING ALERT. Before the new institutions evolve, the old institutions must demonstrate their irrelevance. A Chicago Tribune reporter discovers rumblings in Ohio.

With a litany of complaints that would resonate from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., Ohio this election year is America in political miniature, a little shop of public-opinion horrors that speaks volumes about what bothers people nationwide. Like the state tourism pitch, "Ohio, the heart of it all," it's all right here.

"What you're seeing is an ongoing distrust of major institutions," said Mark Weaver, a Republican Party strategist in Columbus. "It's corporate America, it's state and local government scandals . . . and I think the war in Iraq and the price of gas fuel the discontent in that people feel they've lost control over events.

"For all of the polarization that permeates political discourse, the public dissatisfaction here has a bipartisan stamp only days away from a primary election. In the staunchly Republican community of London, about 25 miles west of Columbus, Melinda Conley still supports President Bush and calls herself a "die-hard Republican."But Conley, an interior designer and gift shop owner on Main Street, quickly says that she has done a lot of dying lately, a point driven home last week when she spent $100 on gas for her Ford Excursion--and that didn't fill the tank. She has no retirement plan. And business is tough.

"I keep telling myself that these guys know what they're doing, but is it going to get any better? I don't know that it is," Conley said. "Why is it harder and harder and harder just to live?"

The old nostrums fail to work, and the old remedy of putting the other rascals in charge is losing its appeal.

A recent University of Akron poll said 59 percent of Ohioans want to oust the Republicans, who have controlled state government for 16 years.

If U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, implicated in the Jack Abramoff scandal, is indicted, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett says he will pressure Ney to resign. Democrats acknowledge, though, that Republican troubles do not necessarily mean the public is clamoring for the Democrats. The political atmosphere is volatile.

The discontent with all the conventional wisdoms grows.

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