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Published: Wednesday, 11/8/2006

Strickland easily takes Ohio governor job

BY JAMES DREW AND STEVE EDER
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS Disgusted by scandal and frustrated with Ohio s lagging economy, voters yesterday elected a Democratic governor for the first time in 20 years, taking aim at the Republican machine that had controlled every statewide office since 1994. See the latest Ohio results

Ted Strickland, a congressman from southeast Ohio who campaigned on a message of change including cleaning up Republican corruption, trounced Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a conservative who vowed to revive the state s economy by cutting taxes.

With 64 percent of precincts reporting, Mr. Strickland had 59 percent of the vote to Mr. Blackwell s 38 percent, in the first general election since the scandal erupted over the state s $50 million rare-coin investment controlled by Tom Noe.

The voters of this state made the unmistakable choice for change, Mr. Strickland told about 1,000 backers jammed into a hotel ballroom. They made the choice of hope over despair and unity over division.

The people of Ohio have sent a clear message. They want more than a change in the political parties. They want a change in how our government is run. Ohioans want a return to civility, and they want to focus on a clear plan to turn around Ohio, Mr. Strickland added.

Republicans swept all statewide offices in the 1994, 1998, and 2002 elections.

Democrats remained hopeful late last night that yesterday s pendulum swing would be as sweeping as in 1970, when Democrats benefited from a GOP scandal by winning the governor s office, attorney general, treasurer, and auditor.

It appeared that Mr. Strickland would take office as Ohio s 68th governor with Democrats holding the offices of secretary of state and treasurer. At press time, the races for attorney general and auditor were too close to call.

Mr. Blackwell conceded the race in a phone call to Mr. Strickland.

Ted, you ran a good race and have won a tremendous opportunity to lead the people of this state to better days, a stronger economy, and a higher quality of life. Congratulations and best wishes for a successful tenure as governor of the greatest state in America, Mr. Blackwell said.

I think we were awash in the wave of change that we rode in on in 1994, an emotional Mr. Blackwell said as he thanked his family and supporters last night at a downtown Columbus hotel. We had an opportunity to lead and stay true to our principles and put our state on the path to economic growth and job creation, and we came up short.

Attorney General Jim Petro, who lost to Mr. Blackwell in the GOP primary for governor, said the Noe scandal was a key factor in Republican fortunes this year. In the primary race, Mr. Blackwell attacked Mr. Petro for not quickly addressing problems with Noe s rare-coin fund.

The scandal, Mr. Petro said, obviously had a negative impact on Republicans and how people felt about them and whether they were going to vote for them. In every period of history in Ohio, there have been scoundrels who tarnish the party.

He added, Tom Noe was the Republican chairman in Lucas County, Ohio. His acts of being a scoundrel dramatically damaged the Republican Party.

With 64 percent of precincts reporting, Democratic state Sen. Marc Dann led with 51 percent over veteran Republican Betty Montgomery, a former two-term attorney general who is completing a four-year term as state auditor.

Mr. Dann carried Wood County, former home of Noe and Ms. Montgomery, where she served as county prosecutor. She now lives in a Columbus suburb.

In a battle between Ohio House members for state auditor, Republican Mary Taylor led Democrat Barbara Sykes 52-48 percent.

Democrat Jennifer Brunner, who resigned as a Franklin County judge last year to run for secretary of state, won with 53 percent of the vote, with Republican Greg Hartmann at 42 percent.

In the treasurer s race, Democrat Richard Cordray won 57 percent to 43 percent over Sandra O Brien, the Ashtabula County auditor who upset incumbent Jennette Bradley in the GOP primary last May.

Ms. O Brien conceded and Mr. Cordray basked in the raucous applause at the Democratic celebration party.

With his wife, Rosa, at his side, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell concedes the Ohio governor s race to Democrat Ted Strickland. With his wife, Rosa, at his side, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell concedes the Ohio governor s race to Democrat Ted Strickland.
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It s been a long time coming, hasn t it? said Mr. Cordray, who ran unsuccessfully in 1998 for attorney general and for U.S. Senate two years later.

An Associated Press exit poll found that voters dissatisfied with the state s economy and disgusted by political scandals propelled Mr. Strickland into office.

The exit poll showed Mr. Strickland winning every swing group by a large margin, including indendents, moderates, middle-income groups, and women.

A Methodist minister, Mr. Strickland split the vote with Mr. Blackwell among voters who attend church weekly. Mr. Blackwell, who made national news for his handling of the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, had hoped his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage would give him an edge over Mr. Strickland.

Tom Noe was an issue in nearly every statewide race on the ballot and also in several congressional and legislative campaigns. As voters yesterday headed for the polls under rainy skies, the prosecution and defense in the Noe trial made their closing arguments.

I m almost ashamed to be a Republican, because of the corruption from the state to the federal governments, said David Gallagher, a 48-year-old Coshocton resident who voted for Mr. Strickland yesterday. It s time for change.

Last night s results set the stage for the 2008 presidential election, with a Democrat as Ohio s chief elections officer.

In January, 2005, Mr. Strickland announced he wouldn t run for governor this year. He said he would seek a sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives to provide loyal opposition to President Bush s policies on Iraq, health care, and Social Security.

On April 3, 2005, The Blade published a story about the state investing $50 million since 1998 in rare-coin funds controlled by Tom Noe, a prominent Toledo area Republican and coin dealer.

The Blade reported that the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation continued to be the solve investor in Noe s coin funds despite strong concerns raised by a bureau auditor over possible conflicts of interest and whether the state s millions were adequately protected.

Noe was appointed by then-Gov. George Voinovich to the Ohio Board of Regents and by Gov. Bob Taft to the Ohio Turnpike Commission.

Mr. Strickland jumped into the governor s race on May 9, 2005, saying Republicans have no one else to blame for the condition of this state but themselves.

Since then, the scandal has unfolded with a steady drum- beat over the last 18 months, defying the predictions of GOP pundits in 2005 that it would fade away long before Election Day.

In June, 2005, the bureau announced it had lost $215 million in a Bermuda-based hedge fund controlled by Mark D. Lay of MDL Capital Management.

The bureau had known about the losses since September, 2004, but didn t disclose them until The Blade began making calls upon learning that state investigators had uncovered huge losses at the bureau.

Two months later, Mr. Taft became the first sitting Ohio governor convicted of a crime. The great-grandson of a U.S. president, Mr. Taft was found guilty of failing to disclose more than four dozen free golf outings and other gifts from lobbyists and businessmen, some from Noe.

Four Noe associates who took his money and used it to attend the 2003 fund-raiser in Columbus for President Bush were convicted of misdemeanor ethics charge of failing to disclose a meal paid for by Noe: Lucas County Commissioner Maggie Thurber, Toledo City Councilman Betty Shultz, former Toledo Mayor Donna Owens, and former state Rep. Sally Perz.

In September, a federal judge sentenced Noe to 27 months in prison and fined him $136,200 for his conviction of illegally funneling more than $45,000 into the re-election campaign of President Bush.

Noe s trial began Oct. 10 in Lucas County on felony charges that he stole at least $2.2 million from the coin funds he managed for the state.

The Noe scandal took its toll on the Ohio GOP machine.

For the first time since becoming chairman of the Ohio Republican Party in 1988, Bob Bennett could not avoid a GOP primary for governor.

Propelled by social and religious conservatives, Mr. Blackwell defeated Mr. Petro last May after running a TV ad that concluded Petro s ethics worse than Taft s.

But after his primary victory, Mr. Blackwell accepted the endorsement of Mr. Taft.

Last night, Mr. Taft, who was barred from running for re-election because of term limits and saw his approval ratings hit a historic low, released a statement congratulating Mr. Strickland.

In the days ahead, members of my staff, my cabinet and I stand ready to assist Governor-elect Strickland and his team to ensure a smooth, professional transition to the new administration.

Contact James Drew at: jdrew@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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