COLUMBUS - Consider the 2006 campaign for governor in Ohio under way.
Attorney General Jim Petro yesterday became the first of the three Republican candidates for governor to air a campaign ad. In an unusual move for an ad airing six months before the May 2 primary election, it names one of his opponents, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.
"Petro has a tested plan that controls spending, and unlike Ken Blackwell's risky proposal, Petro's plan permanently caps taxes," says the announcer over a close-up of Mr. Petro in the ad that begins airing this weekend on stations in Toledo and other cities.
Polls have shown Mr. Petro, a former state auditor and Cuyahoga County commissioner, lagging in statewide recognition, but he has been winning the money race.
"When you talk about a successful campaign, the four things you need are a candidate, fund-raising, issues, and organization," said campaign spokesman Bob Paduchik. "Jim Petro has a fund-raising advantage, and we're putting the fund-raising advantage to use."
As of June 30, the last point at which candidates had to file campaign-finance reports, Mr. Petro's campaign had $3.1 million in the bank, more than twice the $1.5 million banked at that time by Auditor Betty Montgomery and nearly three times as much Mr. Blackwell's $1.1 million.
Both of his opponents' campaigns estimated the Petro media buy at $1.2 million. They characterized his early move as a desperate attempt to influence an internal Ohio Republican Party poll expected to be conducted early next year.
"He's 15 points behind, and he knows he's 15 points behind Ken," said Blackwell campaign spokesman Gene Pierce. "If anything, this gambit hurts Petro's campaign. His [Tax Expenditure Limit] proposal is a day late and more than a dollar short. Where was he six months ago?"
Montgomery campaign spokesman Mark Weaver said the last thing average Ohioans want to see just days after an election is another political ad.
"He's trying to change the subject from his unwillingness to investigate the [Bureau of Workers' Compensation] scandals when the Securities Exchange Commission asked him to," Mr. Weaver said said.
The scandal, which has tainted the administration of Gov. Bob Taft and consumed GOP politics in Ohio this year, centers on former Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe. In April, The Blade exposed problems in a $50 million coin fund managed by Mr. Noe for the workers' compensation bureau.
Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Mr. Noe on three felony charges of laundering money to the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.
Ohio campaign-finance records show that since 1990 Tom Noe and his wife, Bernadette, have contributed $8,100 to Ms. Montgomery, $6,100 to Mr. Petro, and $3,650 to Mr. Blackwell. Most of the contributions were made after 1998, the year Mr. Noe received his first installment of $25 million from the state of Ohio to invest in rare coins.
U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland of Lucasville and Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman are vying for the Democratic nomination. Democrats are hoping the recent scandals will stain the Republican Party's choice.
Mr. Petro's ad focuses on his just-unveiled proposed constitutional amendment to control state spending, which he characterizes as more reasonable than Mr. Blackwell's proposed constitutional amendment already certified for the November, 2006, ballot.
Mr. Petro's plan would limit state revenue collections to 5.5 percent of the total business and personal income earned in the state. Mr. Blackwell's proposal would tie state spending growth to the rate of inflation adjusted for population growth.
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