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Published: Thursday, 7/24/2008

Ex-prosecutor vies for Ohio attorney general

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Mike Crites yesterday pledged not to be a Republican "sacrificial lamb" as he began an uphill battle to go from a virtual political unknown to the next attorney general of Ohio in just three months.

After weeks of false starts, the Ohio GOP named the former federal prosecutor, 60, as its candidate in the Nov. 4 special election to replace disgraced Democrat Marc Dann.

"I have never, ever entered into any contest that I did not fully expect to win," Mr. Crites said. "I would not be here today if I thought that I was the sacrificial lamb of the Republican Party. I am not that."

President Ronald Reagan named the retired Navy captain and Vietnam War vet as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio in 1986. He is perhaps best known for prosecuting Cincinnati Reds legend Pete Rose for tax evasion nearly 20 years ago.

Mr. Crites presented the race as a contest between himself, a career prosecutor, and a job-jumping career politician, Ohio's Democratic Treasurer Richard Cordray.

"I have prosecuted Republicans," Mr. Crites said. "I've prosecuted Democrats. I've prosecuted independents, and they only had one thing in common. They broke the law."

Mr. Cordray is running from the safety of the treasurer's office and had nearly $519,000 in his campaign war chest at the start of the year. Both sides expect to spend in excess of $2 million, despite the truncated campaign.

"I have always considered my real opponent in this race to be the financial predators who are picking the pockets of hard-working Ohio families through unfair lending and business practices, companies who abandon jobs and workers in our hometowns, and anyone who abuses power at a citizen's expense," Mr. Cordray said. "But I welcome my Republican opponent too."

Conservative Delaware attorney Robert Owens, on the ballot as an independent, said Mr. Crites isn't much better-known by Ohio voters than he is.

"A lot of the people who vote for me will come from those who are sick and tired of politics as usual in both parties," he said. "In a short time frame, there have been massive scandals involving the attorney general's office in both parties."

Republicans had scrambled to find a name candidate to take advantage of the sexual harassment scandal that forced Mr. Dann to resign an office he'd held just 17 months. But one by one, former Attorneys General Betty Montgomery and Jim Petro and former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine declined to run.

Mr. Crites said the GOP looked at big names while simultaneously considering lesser-known candidates who hadn't been tainted by the scandal associated with Toledo-area coin dealer Tom Noe that swept Republicans out of every statewide nonjudicial office save one in 2006.

"He has a resume. It'll be up to the Crites campaign to inform voters of his record," said Herb Asher, Ohio State University political science professor emeritus.

"[Republicans] were looking in a short campaign like this for someone like Jim Petro or Betty Montgomery who have instant name recognition," he said. "In that sense, he wasn't their number-one choice. But from a perspective of qualifications and experience, he's a very good candidate."

Mr. Crites served six years as U.S. attorney and is now a partner in a private law firm in Columbus.

Mr. Dann resigned in May after admitting to an extramarital affair with an employee of his office and saying he feared his behavior may have encouraged an atmosphere that led to sexual harassment complaints against a top aide.

Gov. Ted Strickland appointed Nancy Hardin Rogers, on leave from her job as dean of Ohio State's law school, to serve in the post until voters make their choice.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com,

or 614-221-0496.



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