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Published: Monday, 1/16/2006

Petro s running mate in governor s race drops out


COLUMBUS Phil Heimlich, Attorney General Jim Petro s running mate for governor, quit the campaign today so he could run for re-election as a county commissioner.

Petro, the only one of three major Republican candidates who had chosen a running mate, selected Heimlich last March in a move seen as an attempt by the suburban Cleveland moderate to get a conservative voice with high name recognition in the GOP-dominant Cincinnati area.

Heimlich issued a statement saying he still thinks Petro is the best candidate for governor.

Petro said Hamilton County GOP Chairman George Vincent expressed concern that the three-member commission could fall to Democrats if Heimlich did not run for re-election. He is expected to choose another running mate by the end of the month.

Heimlich is the son of Dr. Henry Heimlich, whose anti-choking maneuver bears his name. He has been a county commissioner since 2003.

Also seeking the gubernatorial nomination for the May 2 primary are state Auditor Betty Montgomery and Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell. Both campaigns said Heimlich s decision shows Petro s campaign is in trouble.

Mark Weaver, spokesman for Montgomery, said Heimlich s decision shows there are significant problems with the Petro campaign, most notably a lack of organization.

It was so early that it felt like a stunt. We now have confirmation that it indeed was a stunt, he said of Petro s early announcement about Heimlich joining the ticket last year.

It makes sense, said Gene Pierce, a Blackwell spokesman. You ve got to give Phil Heimlich some credit. He s recognizing those problems, and his political intuitions are telling him to do something else.

Bob Paduchik, Petro s campaign chairman, dismissed the criticism and said Petro s campaign has the momentum, noting that the Franklin County Republican Party endorsed Petro last week.

Of course our opponents are going to characterize it as such, he said.

Blackwell and Montgomery have not chosen running mates. Weaver said Montgomery could announce her selection within a week.

Democratic candidates are U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland of Lisbon, state Sen. Eric Fingerhut and former state Rep. Bryan Flannery.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.

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