Updated Fri, Jan 17, 2014 1:40 pm
Democratic gubernatorial contender Ed FitzGerald has chosen a Dayton-area lawyer who supports abortion rights as his running mate, his second pass at picking a political partner to take on Republican Gov. John Kasich this fall.
He chose Sharen Swartz Neuhardt, Democrats confirmed Friday on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak about it ahead of Saturday's formal announcement. Neuhardt herself also spoke to news outlets in Dayton about the pick.
Neuhardt, 62, is familiar to voters in southwest Ohio from her two unsuccessful bids for Congress, in 2008 and 2012. She brings geographic and gender diversity to the ticket that FitzGerald, an Irish Catholic from Cleveland, has sought as he runs against Kasich, who is expected to retain Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor as his running mate this year.
FitzGerald first selected state Sen. Eric Kearney, a Cincinnati lawyer, as his running mate. Kearney withdrew after revelations he, his wife and their business owed hefty tax liens.
The Ohio Republican Party swiftly criticized FitzGerald's pick of Neuhardt, which is scheduled to be formally announced Saturday.
"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 an email. "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."
Neuhardt graduated from Georgetown University's law school and is a partner at Thompson Hine in Dayton.
Though she's never held elective office, she told the Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun and NewsCenter 7 that she does not see that as a negative with Ohio voters.
"It's an advantage to not be just another politician," she said.
Democrats also view Neuhardt as a tenacious fundraiser, even against long odds.
In her 2008 race against then-state Sen. Steve Austria, she raised $839,000 to Austria's $1.2 million, a showing Democrats considered strong.
In 2012, Neuhardt took on U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, a well-known congressional veteran whose district boundaries had been redrawn. She raised $581,000 to his $1.2 million, according to figures compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, in a race she had little chance of winning.
FitzGerald, a former FBI agent who serves as the executive of Democrat-dominated Cuyahoga County, faces a potential primary challenge by Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. Though Kearney, FitzGerald's first pick as running mate, is black, Portune has criticized FitzGerald for what he called an appalling disconnection from the black community.
On Thursday, FitzGerald landed a long-awaited endorsement from Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, who is black. Jackson commended FitzGerald for restoring trust in government in their shared city after a county corruption scandal.