Monday, April 30, 2001

Ohio GOP braces for Deters-Petro fight

State treasurer, auditor want attorney general's job

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Joe Deters can't help it if his battle with State Auditor Jim Petro for the Ohio attorney general nomination turns Ohio Republican politics inside-out. He wants this job more than anything.

        “I miss being a lawyer,” said the 43-year-old Cincinnatian, who was elected Ohio's treasurer in 1998 after six years as Hamilton County prosecutor.

        “My time as prosecutor was the most rewarding time of my life,” Mr. Deters said. “I want to go back to it.”

        The Ohio Republican Party holds a monopoly on statewide elected offices and party leaders had hoped for a quiet transition in 2002, with Mr. Petro, who under term limits will be out as auditor, trading jobs with Attorney General Betty Montgomery, who is also facing term limits.

        The rest of the statewide officeholders — Gov. Bob Taft, Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and Mr. Deters — would run for re-election.

        But Mr. Deters announced earlier this month what political observers had expected for some time now — that he will give up the treasurer's office to run against Mr. Petro in the 2002 GOP primary.

        It promises to be the kind of high-profile, multimillion-dollar family fight that the Ohio Republican Party hasn't seen the likes of since Robert Taft Jr. beat James A. Rhodes in the 1970 U.S. Senate primary.

        And if it divides the party and hurts the GOP's chances of hanging on to the attorney general's office, both Mr. Petro and Mr. Deters are willing to take the risk.

        “Nobody wants a primary; I sure don't,” said Mr. Deters, who resigned as Hamilton County Republican Party chairman earlier this year to run for attorney general. “But I'm dead serious — I want this job.”

        So, too, does Mr. Petro, a former Cuyahoga County commissioner and state representative.

        Last Thursday, the Cleveland Republican made Cincinnati the fifth and final stop on a daylong tour of Ohio, bringing with him Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and a group of Hamilton County Republicans who have endorsed his candidacy.

        “Nobody is going to vote for me or Jim because their state representative endorsed us,” Mr. Deters said.

        “The bottom line is that if you go around Ohio, there's not many people who know who I am and not many people who know who Jim is.”

        The election — which is a year away — will be won by “whichever candidate gets his message out through paid media,” Mr. Deters said.


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