Auditor candidates smear their way to the top.

The race for state auditor is usually as yawnworthy as an episode of 7th Heaven. After all, there's nothing sexy about number crunchers.

But thanks to a catfight between Akron Democrat Barbara Sykes and Green Republican Mary Taylor, things are looking salaciously up.

In round one, Sykes filed a federal suit against Taylor, alleging racial discrimination after Taylor's camp conducted a poll asking voters whether it would affect how they voted if they knew that Sykes was president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus. Intended message: Did you know Barbara Sykes is a Negro?!

The suit was dropped when Taylor agreed to stop using racial overtones in her polling.

But Taylor's crew struck again when the Ohio Republican Party released television ads misquoting a statement Sykes made on the House floor. The ad claimed that she had said, "I think people should work so they pay their taxes, because we need their money."

What she really said: "I support free enterprise and I love competition."

You can see how people would be confused.

But the GOP refused to pull the ad. So Sykes figured she'd get even.

Last week, her campaign released ads quoting an Akron Beacon Journal editorial that accused Taylor of "kowtowing" to Alex Arshinkoff, the Summit County Republican Party chairman, after she helped block the county courts' effort to add much-needed judges.

The ad also pointed out that Taylor sent a letter to Republican legislators in 2005, urging them to fund a University of Akron building project in which her husband's company, Welty Construction, could have benefited financially.

So Taylor responded with an unusual complaint to the Ohio Ethics Commission, claiming that the ads were deceptive because Sykes forgot to hyphenate "kow-towing" (according to Webster, not a hyphenated word) and that the Beacon Journal said Taylor was kowtowing to several party bosses, not just Arshinkoff.

"This ad is just a pattern of behavior for Sykes," says Christina Haddad, Taylor's campaign manager. "The ad was false and deceptive. These weren't typographical errors."

Still, the Ethics Commission found Taylor's complaint frivolous.

"It was an odd campaign strategy," says Samantha Herd, Sykes' campaign manager. "It doesn't matter if you're kowtowing to one party boss or multiple party bosses. It's clear she's not an independent agent."

What about Bob?
In its November issue, Rolling Stone claims to unveil "The Worst Congress Ever," including a list of the 10 most egregious offenders. It features House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Where's My Neck?), who set aside $207 million in federal funds to build a highway near land he owns, and Congressman William Jefferson (D-Moron), the genius who hid stacks of bribe money in his freezer.

Punch eagerly thumbed through the pages, fully expecting to find Ohio's representatives in their rightful place atop the list. But alas, they were nowhere to be found. What the rock rag missed:

· House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Not Me!), who first shrugged off his knowledge of Mark Foley's penchant for young boys, then blamed colleagues for not stopping it.

· Representative Bob Ney (R-My Hair), who admitted trading free golf and poker chips to lobbyists in exchange for favors. After pleading guilty to felony charges, Ney has yet to resign his office. He's still collecting his $165,000 salary and expects to get a $30,000 annual pension when he retires.

· Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Magical Forest), the ugliest leprechaun this side of Ireland, who's spent more than $4 million in government salary and federal campaign money without passing a single piece of legislation.

Speaking of the elf . . .
It looks as if Kucinich will retain his House seat next week, allowing him to continue napping for at least two more years. But his ego, which recently got its own motorcade, may once again awake him from slumber.

The Santa Cruz Sentinel in northern California reported recently that Kucinich swung through the area on a seven-city fund-raising tour, and that the "59-year-old vegan . . . is eyeing the presidency once again."

In case you blocked it out, Kucinich campaigned hard for the presidency in 2004, despite not meeting the federal height requirement. His vanity run wasted more cash than Kirstie Alley at a Hostess outlet shop and made him harder to find in his West Side district than a vegetarian steak joint.

Kucinich hasn't said whether he'll run in '08, and, oddly, he won't return Punch's calls. But the Sentinel -- winner of the 2006 prize for Best Paper to Fashion Into a Joint -- seems to think otherwise. And if anyone should know, it's the people in Santa Cruz, where local activists host year-round Kucinich meetings, and where 8,000 people -- including 7,985 independent-bookstore clerks -- voted for Kucinich in 2004.

DeWine's bad week
Senator Mike DeWine (R-Weenie) prides himself on being a go-along, get-along kind of guy. But last week, the Gentleman From Ohio managed to make some Big Media enemies.

On MSNBC's Countdown, Keith Olbermann declared DeWine one of the Worst People in the World. The senator earned the bronze medal in Awfulness for his refusal to yank campaign ads criticizing opponent Sherrod Brown for not paying taxes -- a claim that's been proved false.

DeWine has refused to let reality get in the way of a good smear. "Read my lips," he said during a recent debate. "The ad is true."

But Olbermann wasn't the only wonk to crap on DeWine last week. In its "Conventional Wisdom" column, Newsweek bestowed upon DeWine its dreaded down arrow.

In typically sparse prose, the column said of DeWine: "Ohio sen. one of many Bushie GOPs now claiming to be independent thinkers. Not gonna wash."

But there is a bright side for DeWine: If polls are to be believed, he'll have to put up with the media spotlight only for one more week.

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