Cleveland Dem to face GOP Ohio governor this fall

JULIE CARR SMYTH AP Statehouse Correspondent Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Cleveland Democrat Ed FitzGerald easily won the Democratic primary for governor on Tuesday, setting up a high-stakes showdown this fall with incumbent Republican John Kasich.

FitzGerald's defeat of Larry Ellis Ealy had been expected. Ealy was a little-known high-school dropout with little campaign cash who said he hatched his plan to run for office from a jail cell.

FitzGerald, 45, of Lakewood, is the county executive in Cuyahoga County, the state's most populous Democratic stronghold. He's a former FBI agent, mayor and prosecutor tapped to clean up county government after a corruption scandal.

His campaign spokeswoman deferred comment on the win until after FitzGerald could deliver his victory speech at Ohio Democratic Party headquarters in Columbus.

With Tuesday's primary behind them, FitzGerald and Democrats turn their attention to November.

The Kasich-FitzGerald match-up is expected to be among the nation's most closely watched governor's races, with some $10 million in combined fundraising -- mostly by Kasich -- already reported.

Both men have female running mates.

FitzGerald's is Yellow Springs attorney Sharen Swartz Neuhardt, a former candidate for Congress known for her outspoken support for abortion rights.

Kasich is partnering again with Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, a former state auditor and lawmaker from the Akron-area suburb of Green.

Democrats have signaled FitzGerald will seek to draw distinctions with Kasich on women's issues, including abortion rights and violence; wages; voter access; and government transparency, particularly as it relates to Kasich's privatized job-creation office, JobsOhio. The office is largely exempted from Ohio public records and ethics laws, and reports more like a business.

The 61-year-old Kasich, a former congressman, investment banker and Fox News commentator, will keep the focus on the economy.

"The governor's record of creating jobs, balancing budgets and cutting taxes resonates with Ohioans across party lines and we look forward to talking about this strong record all the way to November," spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp said in an email.

Kasich was uncontested Tuesday, but that didn't mean his road to primary victory was without its bumps. A fellow Republican and a tea party activist both tried but failed to mount successful primary challenges against the first-term governor.

His campaign began airing biographical TV ads on April 15 that emphasize Kasich's blue-collar roots and dedication to creating an economic climate conducive to job growth.

The state unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent in March, the lowest rate in six years.

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