William O'Neill's reputation as a Democratic party maverick appears to be intact.
The former appellate judge from Geauga County held a commanding lead Tuesday night over Hamilton County Municipal Judge Fanon Rucker for the Democrats' nomination to challenge incumbent Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp, a Republican, in November.
"The voters of the Democratic Party have spoken, and I am their nominee for the Supreme Court of Ohio. Now the real work begins," Mr. O'Neill said in a victory statement. "I congratulate Judge Rucker for running an honorable and fair campaign and welcome him to future statewide endeavors."
Judge Rucker, the party's endorsed candidate, had the advantage of party campaign support and candidate dinners. But Mr. O'Neill of South Russell, Ohio, had successfully bucked party leadership in 2004 and 2006 to win the Democratic nominations for state Supreme Court seats against endorsed opponents.
And as he did in his 2006 campaign, Mr. O'Neill swore off campaign contributions, focusing instead on wooing votes through the Internet.
"I was dramatically outspent by my opponent, yet my message of 'Money and judges don't mix' has once again resonated with the voters," Mr. O'Neill said. "I now begin a statewide journey to take a simple message to the people of Ohio. The message of 'Money and judges don't mix' won tonight and it will prevail in November."
Judge Rucker said that while he was disappointed by his failure to "convince folks I was the better option," positive feedback he received during the campaign made him "excited about the future.
"It was a very big learning experience for me," he said. "I'm sure this won't be my last political foray statewide."
Mr. O'Neill, 64, was elected in 1996 and 2002 to six-year terms on the 11th District Court of Appeals, in Warren, before stepping down in 2007 to focus on an unsuccessful run for Congress.
In his 2004 and 2006 campaigns for Ohio Supreme Court, he lost to Justice Terrence O'Donnell both times.
Two other top court seats are on the ballot this year, but neither had a primary contest.
Justice Yvette McGee Brown, the bench's sole Democrat, will face Butler County Domestic Relations Judge Sharon Kennedy in a bid to retain the seat to which then-Gov. Ted Strickland appointed her early last year.
Justice O'Donnell, meanwhile, will seek his second full, six-year term against Youngstown-area attorney Robert W. Price.
-- David Patch