COLUMBUS - Mary O. Boyle admits she wasn't convinced she could win when she made the last-minute decision to challenge extremely well-financed Republican incumbent Treasurer Joe Deters.
Used to one election victory after another in her Cleveland backyard for two decades, her confidence was shaken when she lost two attempts to translate that to success statewide.
"When I'd walk out of a room, I'd be thinking, 'These people all know me as a loser because of the last two elections I lost','' she said. "Officially, I'm not. I still have a pretty good batting average.
"It took a while,'' said the daughter of Irish immigrants. "What convinced me, as I traveled around Ohio, is that I found there is residual support for me. People do remember me. In a way, they almost convinced me that I could win.''
"She doesn't blink,'' said Tim Hagan, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate who spent nine years with Mrs. Boyle, 60, as a Cuyahoga County commissioner.
"She's tough when she's committed to a position,'' he said. "She's going to stay the course, regardless of the political consequences.''
A 1962 graduate of St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Ind., with a degree in chemistry, Mrs. Boyle briefly worked as a researcher looking for uses for the byproducts from Sohio's oil-refining process.
She and her husband, Jack, with whom she has four children, caught the political bug while involved in community activities in Cleveland Heights. She helped her husband win a seat on city council in 1971.
"She was more than just a candidate's spouse. She was a key member of the campaign,'' said Mr. Boyle, assistant to the president of Cleveland State University.
Mrs. Boyle was elected to the Ohio House in 1978 on her first attempt. She eventually rose to majority leader before being elected county commissioner in 1984.
Politically savvy, experienced, and determined, she ruffled Democratic feathers when she challenged and nearly defeated the party's chosen candidate for U.S. Senate, lawyer Joel Hyatt, in 1994. Hyatt lost the general election to then Lt. Gov. Mike DeWine.
"You don't get involved in a primary like that and have it all flowers and candy,'' said David Leland, former Ohio Democratic Party chairman.
In 1998, she resisted attempts to convince her to run for Ohio secretary of state instead of challenging then Gov. George Voinovich for U.S. Senate. In the end, Democrats lost both races.
Mrs. Boyle, whose maiden name is O'Boyle, traveled twice as part of President Clinton's entourage to her parents' homeland, visiting Dublin and Belfast, and was there with Mr. Clinton when the U.S. Supreme Court declared George W. Bush the victor in 2000.
Mrs. Boyle underwent hip-replacement surgery in July for an injury she blamed on 45 years of tennis. She vowed to walk in her first parade on Labor Day and did. But she took pains on the campaign trail to avoid situations allowing people to see her limping.
"Now she has no pain,'' said Mr. Boyle. "She can't run, but she can walk real fast.''