- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio Democrats are hoping Tuesday’s debate sparks enthusiasm for a 2016 presidential primary that has so far lacked much of the drama of Republicans’ Donald Trump-infused campaign.

Watch parties are planned across the battleground state, including in big cities such as Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and Akron and in smaller places like Marietta and Chillicothe.

“When you have the sideshow with what felt like 100 candidates running for the Republican nomination, the sideshow’s all you’re going to get,” said Stonewall Columbus vice president Marc Gofstein, who plans to watch the Las Vegas debate at a party in Columbus.

Gofstein said if Democrats can stick to talking more about issues “the drama’s significantly less, because you’re worried about what people are going through not what Donald Trump’s saying.”

Grassroots efforts by Ohio Democrats come as Republicans have enjoyed strong attention in the state in the run-up to 2016.

Cleveland won its bid to serve as the site of the Republican National Convention next year, and it also hosted the first GOP debates in August. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is among Republicans seeking the White House.

Democrats seek to cast as a negative the record-setting viewership garnered by Republican presidential debates featuring Trump, the front-running billionaire businessman and reality television star.

“Maybe people won’t think it’s as exciting as a Donald Trump debate. I think that’s a good thing,” said Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper. “The Democrats are focused like a laser on economic issues more so than attacking each other.”

Though the Republicans’ primary has been marked by attacks - often lobbed by and at Trump - they can draw voter attention. Kasich, for example, has sought to avoid attacking either fellow Republicans or Democrats in his presidential campaign but has failed thus far to see voters propel him into the race’s top tier in polling.

Kasich is on a four-day bus tour through Wednesday that’s stopping in New Hampshire, Vermont and Michigan as he seeks to build national name recognition and momentum.

There’s evidence the Democrats’ contest is also still settling out.

Hillary Clinton has remained the front-runner in early polling with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont polling second, but a Quinnipiac University poll released Sept. 24 showed a combined 14 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaning voters are either undecided, won’t vote or want to see someone else run.

An additional 18 percent said they’d vote for Vice President Joe Biden if he were running.

Pepper said he expects Tuesday’s debate to highlight Democrats’ key policy differences with Republicans on income inequality, wages and jobs.

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