COLUMBUS -- Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald named a Dayton-area Democrat as his choice for lieutenant governor Friday, a little more than a month after his first pick stepped aside due to tax bill issues.
Sharen Neuhardt joins the ticket with hopes of unseating Republican incumbent John Kasich. She is a licensed attorney who had two unsuccessful runs for Congress, losing to Steve Austria in 2008 and Mike Turner in 2012.
Neuhardt has been a frequent critic of GOP-backed abortion restrictions and women's health issues, appearing at a Statehouse rally last year. She also was active in President Barack Obama's reelection campaign.
The FitzGerald campaign announced the new running mate in a fund-raising email to supporters, and a formal introduction is planned in Dayton over the weekend.
Neuhardt said she "knows firsthand the importance of making the American dream available to every kid." She was the first member of her family to attend college and worked to establish herself as a business attorney.
"I've done very well in life, and I am an example of what is supposed to happen when the American dream works," she said. "That gives me a great perspective, because I understand the importance of it. I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth, by any means."
Neuhardt said her corporate law background "makes her keenly aware of right and wrong ways to do things and how to help businesses grow and… create jobs …"
She added that, if elected she would continue to serve as a "strong advocate" for women.
Women's health and abortion rights advocates praised the selection.
"Ohio women need leaders that will fight for our right to make our own personal, private health care decisions," Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said in a released statement. "Neuhardt has been standing up for Ohio women her entire career. ... Ohio women can count on Neuhardt to fight for them every day."
Abortion opponents, however, called her a "desperate and otherwise radical pick."
"By far, Ed Fitzgerald is out of touch with average Ohioans who at a minimum believe abortions should be rare," Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said in a released statement. "Instead of offering ideas and solutions, it's now obvious that Fitzgerald and his running mate will be fixated on abortion and the juvenile catch phrase 'war on women.' It is an insult to women who need and desire real health care solutions. Rather than discussing sustainable solutions to issues like employment and education, Fitzgerald demonstrates that he would rather push abortion on a pro-life state that has had enough."
Neuhardt replaces state Sen. Eric Kearney, D-Cincinnati, FitzGerald's initial running mate, who dropped out of the race after continued news coverage of tax debts related to a business he and his wife own.
The Ohio Republican Party quickly criticized Neuhardt's selection.
"FitzGerald failed his self-declared first major test of picking his running mate two months ago when he selected someone who failed to pay his employees' Social Security and Medicare taxes and allowed his campaign to mislead the public about it," GOP spokesman Chris Schrimpf said in a released statement. "Today FitzGerald is putting in the third-string backup to his original choice which only reinforces what we learned two months ago, that he simply doesn't have what it takes to lead a state."
The Ohio Democratic Party has endorsed FitzGerald as its choice to face Kasich in November, but one other potential candidate is considering challenging in the primary.
Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is positioning himself for a potential run against FitzGerald.