COLUMBUS - Joe Deters remembers sitting in a jury box when he was 6 years old watching his grandfather, an old Irish Democrat, as he was sworn into his sixth term as Hamilton County sheriff.
“We grew up with stories about grandpa's political career,” he said. “He was like a god to us.”
So Mr. Deters, as a young attorney, was confused when, after he'd expressed an interest in politics, his grandfather led him straight to 1st District Court of Appeals Judge Raymond Shannon, a Republican.
“I don't like the direction the Democratic Party is going,” Mr. Deters recalled his grandfather saying. “I think ideologically you'll be more suited to the Republican Party.”
Two decades later, the ambitious Mr. Deters, 45, is Ohio's Republican treasurer, the state's top banker and investor. Although extremely well financed, polls show the low-profile office is up for grabs due to an aggressive campaign by his Democratic opponent, Mary Boyle of Cleveland, and his own, low name recognition outside southwestern Ohio.
“I tease him about how long it will be before he's running for president,” said Sharon Tewksbury of Cincinnati. “He just hangs his head. He has an ego, but he has a lot of humility too. He gets really embarrassed.”
She met Mr. Deters in 1983 when the young assistant county prosecutor was assigned to coordinate witnesses and evidence between concurrent trials for three men charged in the convenience store robbery and murder of her husband, Monte. One of those men, John W. Byrd Jr., was executed earlier this year.
Mr. Deters cited the case during his acceptance speech when he became prosecutor.
“Sooner or later he's going to run for attorney general,” said Mrs. Tewksbury. “I did a PR tape for him, but it's been put on hold obviously. I'm especially proud of him.”
Mr. Deters has made no secret of his wish to be attorney general. For most of 2001, he was unofficially running for and raising tons of cash for a challenge to the GOP favorite, current State Auditor Jim Petro.
The two reached an agreement by year's end that clears the GOP path for Mr. Deters to run in 2006 when Mr. Petro runs for governor. That left a re-election bid that has turned out to far from a sure thing.
Mr. Deters has emerged as a major power broker in his home county, taking over the reins of the local Republican Party from December 1999 to March 2001. The party has been a major contributor to his campaign, a conflict the Ohio Ethics Commission recently frowned upon.
“He has sure played every angle to his benefit,” said Tim Burke, co-chairman of the county Democratic Party. “He built on those that preceded him and took it to a new level. Certainly what we have seen from his fund-raising is another example of that. He's played every angle in no way anybody anticipated previously.”
Mr. Deters met his wife of 17 years, Missy, when he worked on the municipal court campaign of her mother, Sylvia Hendon, now Republican Hamilton County juvenile court judge.
The Deters have three children, ages 13, 12, and 8, all in Catholic school. He coaches his son's seventh-grade football team.