By Julie Carr Smyth
AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS: Democratic gubernatorial contender Ed FitzGerald has chosen a Dayton-area business attorney who supports abortion rights in his second pass at picking a running mate.
FitzGerald announced his choice of Sharen Swartz Neuhardt in an email to campaign supporters Friday.
Neuhardt, 62, may be familiar to southwest Ohio voters 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. The first-term governor is expected to retain Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor as his running mate as he makes his bid for re-election.
FitzGerald first selected state Sen. Eric Kearney, a Cincinnati lawyer who is black, as his No. 2. But Kearney withdrew after revelations that he had hefty tax liens.
Neuhardt said in a telephone interview Friday that she was rigorously vetted by the campaign over several weeks.
“I felt like, at the end, that they know me better than almost anybody else,” she said.
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.
She said she believes the fact she hasn’t held elective office before will show voters she’s someone who hasn’t made a career in politics, but working her way through Northwestern University and Georgetown University Law Center as a member of a middle-class family.
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, she raised $581,000 against well-known congressional veteran U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, a race she had little chance of winning.
Neuhardt also has garnered support from EMILY’s List, a powerful political action committee that supports women for office who support abortion rights. Its backing typically means campaign dollars.
In a statement Friday, Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said FitzGerald is blatantly courting abortion rights supporters, showing his campaign is “on life support.”
“This desperate and otherwise radical pick is nothing more than an old and tired tactic to fire up an extreme faction of his base,” Gonidakis said in a statement. “By far, Ed Fitzgerald is out of touch with average Ohioans who at a minimum believe abortions should be rare.”
The director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, Kellie Copeland, “Neuhardt understands what is at stake for Ohio women with this election.”
Neuhardt criticized Kasich and the Republican-led Legislature for measures that restricted public funding for and access to abortions, but she said her support of women goes beyond abortion.
“All of the things that they’re doing to once again relegate women in Ohio to being second-class citizens is wrong,” she said.
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.