Democrat's governor bid is still uncertain

DAN SEWELL Associated Press Published:

CINCINNATI (AP) -- A longtime Cincinnati-area officeholder said Thursday he's having trouble lining up a running mate for his Democratic bid for governor.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune was expected to announce a decision Thursday on whether he will officially file to run. But he said he hasn't gotten anyone to say yes to running with him as lieutenant governor.

"It's been really an uphill climb," Portune said in an interview. "The party has made it very clear that it doesn't want this to happen. There is a lot of pressure on would-be candidates."

He is running out of time before the Feb. 5 filing deadline but said he hasn't given up and still has some possibilities. He figures he has about one more week to get a running mate and be able to gather signatures for filing.

"I've got to continue to try," Portune said.

Portune said last month that he was challenging Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald for the Democratic nomination. FitzGerald has been running for months and has the backing of state party leaders. But Portune said he was hearing from rank-and-file Democrats a desire for a choice in the May 6 primary, and he said he had more experience and the ability to win votes in southern Ohio.

Portune, 55, said Thursday that he still thinks a contested primary would help the Democratic Party, by allowing a discussion of issues and generating momentum for the nominee. He has been crisscrossing the state to gauge support.

FitzGerald told reporters Wednesday that Portune is "a nice man," but he wasn't worrying about a primary challenge.

"He's not being entirely realistic," FitzGerald said in Columbus. "It's very difficult to run a legitimate statewide campaign and start it before the filing deadline. I just know that from the last year because I've been in all 88 counties and it takes awhile. And I think what he's finding is that to run a viable campaign, you need a long, long head start. "

FitzGerald said he respects Portune, but that he's focused on Republican Gov. John Kasich.

FitzGerald had his own running mate difficulties. State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati dropped off the ticket last month amid questions about tax liens. Dayton-area attorney Sharen Swartz Neuhardt, who lost two campaigns for Congress, became his new running mate last week.

There has been talk about a tea party challenger to Kasich on the Republican side, but none has filed yet.

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Associated Press reporter Ann Sanner contributed in Columbus. Contact the reporter at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell

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