COLUMBUS - The next statewide election is 11 months away, but Ohio Republicans are cutting political deals for the 2006 election.
Yesterday state Treasurer Joe Deters scrapped his campaign against Jim Petro for the GOP nomination for attorney general in 2002.
Mr. Petro is state auditor, but he can't run for that post next year because of term limits.
Mr. Deters - after months of saying he was the most qualified candidate to serve as attorney general - announced yesterday he will seek a second four-year term as treasurer.
Mr. Deters acknowledged that he dropped out of the race because of a deal he cut with Mr. Petro.
“Jim looked me in the eye and assured me that, if elected, he would not seek re-election as attorney general and that he would endorse and support me for that office in 2006,” Mr. Deters said.
“I've known Jim for a long time, and I know him to be an honest person and public official. I believe him, and that's what brought about the change in my position,” Mr. Deters said.
Mr. Petro plans to run for governor in 2006, but other potential GOP candidates include U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, Attorney General Betty Montgomery, and Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell.
Bob Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, helped arrange the deal to avoid a nasty primary battle between Mr. Deters, a former Hamilton County prosecutor, and Mr. Petro, a former Cuyahoga County commissioner.
Two of the negotiating sessions were held at the Columbus residence of Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas, a confidant of Mr. Deters. Mr. Douglas declined to discuss his role. “I'm not talking about any of that,” he said.
Mr. Deters said: “Andy and Bennett are old pals. Andy is a good friend. He was not the mediator. This was between Jim and I.”
The GOP holds every nonjudicial statewide post, sweeping the 1994 and 1998 elections. It has a 5-2 majority on the state Supreme Court.
Despite protests yesterday from Democrats, Republican candidates will continue to cut deals as long as the Democrats fail to field competitive candidates.
“If the Democratic candidate for treasurer has the money to do ads, one of the things they might do is say, `Elect a treasurer who wants to be treasurer,'” said Herb Asher, a political science professor at Ohio State University. “But one definition of a competitive candidate is one who can raise the money.”
In 1990, Bob Taft insisted he was in the governor's race to stay - but yielded to George Voinovich and ran for secretary of state after GOP leaders pledged Mr. Taft would be next in line to run for governor. Mr. Taft unseated incumbent Democratic Secretary of State Sherrod Brown, then won the governor's race in 1998.
Also that year, Republican Ken Blackwell, then state treasurer, insisted he was in the governor's race to stay - but yielded to Mr. Taft and ran for secretary of state after GOP leaders pledged to raise $3 million for his race. Mr. Blackwell defeated Democrat Charleta Tavares, now a Columbus city councilwoman.
In 1990, Mr. Taft and Mr. Voinovich did not put their deal in writing, but Mr. Deters included the terms of his arrangement with Mr. Petro in a press release.
Mary Boyle, a former Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, called that admission “amazing.”
“When candidates make deals, they shut out the voices of their supporters and the people in their party. The only way you make them pay is by winning a couple of these seats back, and I'm confident we will. There is a whole new generation of potential candidates, but they may not be chosen by the current party leadership,” she said.
David Leland, who has been chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party since 1995, has said he will run for re-election next year. But he may face a challenge.
Mr. Petro, 53, said if he wins the attorney general's race next year, 2006 is his “one opportunity in a lifetime” to run for governor.
“I wanted to be up front and not coy,” Mr. Petro said.