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Published: Sunday, 6/22/2008

Dems ratify Cordray for Dann post

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Ohio Democrats presented a united front yesterday as they crowned their candidate for attorney general, while Republicans let their target date for naming their choice pass without action.

It came as no surprise as the Ohio Democratic Party's central and executive committees ratified Gov. Ted Strickland's choice of state Treasurer Richard Cordray to carry the party's banner to replace the disgraced Marc Dann.

Mr. Cordray said Democrats have "turned the page" on Mr. Dann, who resigned last month after less than 17 months in office following a sexual harassment scandal that had him admitting to a consensual affair with an office employee.

"My race this year will be about my priorities for the attorney general's office and how I plan to put that office on the side of the people of Ohio," Mr. Cordray said. "I'm not looking to make comparisons to any of the prior attorneys general living or dead."

A former state representative and Franklin County treasurer, he will run from the safety of the Ohio Treasurer's Office as he seeks voter approval on Nov. 4 to complete the two years left in Mr. Dann's term. Mr. Strickland has named Nancy Hardin Rogers, on leave as Ohio State University's law school dean, to the post in the meantime.

As Democrats presented a united front in downtown Columbus, Ohio Republican Party leaders met a bit to the north near Delaware, but no potential candidate's name was presented for consideration as scheduled.

The committee initially named to screen potential candidates has been turned into a search committee after one big name after another, as well as a few second-tier possibilities, have taken themselves out of contention.

The field of known potential candidates has largely narrowed to Jim Petro, a former attorney general and state auditor who found himself out of statewide office after unsuccessfully seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2006. Mr. Petro has most recently expressed interest in running for Ohio Supreme Court chief justice in 2010.

"Jim's still in the mix," said state GOP Chairman Bob Bennett. "He's very favorable with the voters, as is Betty Montgomery and a number of others."

Mr. Cordray and fellow Democrats have attempted to disown Mr. Dann, with the state party going as far as retroactively rescinding its endorsement of him in the 2006 election.

Republicans, however, plan to remind voters of how Mr. Cordray and fellow Democrats praised Mr. Dann when he was a candidate.

"Darn right you're going to see it," Mr. Bennett said. "Rich was out there too. There's great footage."

Mr. Cordray said he doesn't believe voters will buy it.

"I and the governor stepped up and were forceful in urging Marc to resign and threatening impeachment if he did not," he said. "When they have a candidate, show me when that candidate ever lifted a finger when [former Gov.] Bob Taft was convicted of crimes in office. Then it will be a legitimate complaint."

Kevin DeWine, the GOP's deputy chairman, said a number of people have expressed interest in making a run, but some have been unwilling to do so publicly yet.

"We're committed to finding the right candidate rather than someone in the quickest fashion possible," he said.

He disagreed with the suggestion that the GOP well appears to have run dry less than two years after statewide Republican officeholders were falling over one another to run for office.

"There is a very small group of people who are qualified to run for attorney general, and we're going to make sure we don't make the same mistake that Democrats did when they put Marc Dann on the ballot 18 months ago," Mr. DeWine said. "I don't buy the argument that the bench is empty. There's a great bench of next-generation Republican leaders."

The list of some of the better-known names that have taken themselves out of consideration includes former Attorney General Betty Montgomery, former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine, state Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland), retiring U.S. Rep. Deborah Pryce of suburban Columbus, and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien.

Mr. Bennett confirmed that he had even approached Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer to see whether he would be interested. He was not, despite the fact that he will be forced to retire from the bench in little more than two years because of his age.

The party must name its attorney general candidate for the special election by Aug. 20.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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