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Published: Tuesday, 5/2/2006

Ohio picking governor candidates in scandal-plagued year

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS, Ohio A year of scandals in Ohio s Republican-led government and infighting among GOP candidates turned the state s gubernatorial primary today into a test of voter sentiment that could foreshadow the party s prospects in November.

The Republicans have a problem, said Carl Rullmann, a GOP voter who said he supports Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell in his race against Attorney General Jim Petro for the nomination.

Two other states also held primaries today, including North Carolina, where the district attorney prosecuting the Duke University rape case fought off two challengers, and Indiana, where congressional incumbents easily won their party nominations.

Ohio officials refused to release election results late today based on a judge s decision to keep a Cleveland polling place open late because it had not opened on time. Blackwell told local election boards they could count ballots but ordered them not to release results until all polls were closed.

Some counties released results despite the order.

The race for Ohio s Republican gubernatorial nomination pitted Blackwell, the secretary of state who served in the Reagan administration and carries a Bible to events, against Petro, who lagged in polls published Sunday.

Blackwell s prominence as a leading black voice in the GOP could be pivotal to Republicans. He is the first black candidate to run for governor in Ohio. His ads sought to taint Petro with connections to the state s investment in rare coins that went awry and to tie him to Gov. Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest to four ethics violations last year involving a failure to report free golf outings and gifts.

Petro hammered Blackwell as a hypocrite who opposes abortion and gambling even though some of his multimillion-dollar stock portfolio is invested in those interests.

The GOP disunity may have turned off some voters.

I saw a lot of backstabbing, name-calling, character assassination. I don t go for that kind of stuff, said James Martin, 66, leaving a polling place in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville. He said the negative campaigning influenced his choice in the Republican primary, but he would not say who that was.

The Ohio scandals also emboldened Democrats who hope to end the Republicans 15-year hold on the governor s office.

The winner of the primary will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland in November. Strickland is viewed as the Democrats best chance to regain some control over a state government where Republicans control all three branches, as well as statewide offices and a majority of congressional seats.

Strickland handily defeated a former state legislator for the nomination. With 2 precincts reporting, he had 1,023 votes, or 84 percent of the vote.

Republicans targeted the House seat Strickland leaves open as one of its best shots nationally to gain a Democratic congressional spot. They have been helped by the fact the Democrats leading candidate must run as a write-in due to a filing mistake. National Democrats and Republicans have spent roughly $1 million in the race, more than they have for any primary in the past decade.

Ohio s U.S. Senate race will also be closely watched in the fall, but incumbent Sen. Mike DeWine and his Democratic rival, U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, easily emerged from the primary.

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



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