Ann Sanner

COLUMBUS: A longtime Republican state lawmaker called his female primary opponent “sweetie” and questioned her interest in serving in the legislature while she is raising young children.

Sen. Tom Patton, who serves as majority floor leader, made the comments about Republican candidate Jennifer Herold on the Jan. 18 America’s Work Force radio show and quickly drew sharp criticism. Patton, who cannot run for his Senate seat again because of term limits, is seeking the 7th House District seat in Northeast Ohio. Both he and Herold are from Strongsville.

“The gal that’s running against me is a 30-year-old, you know, mom, mother of two infants,” Patton said.

“I don’t know if anybody explained to her we got to spend three nights a week in Columbus. So, how does that work out for you? I waited until I was 48 till my kids were raised, and at least adults, before we took the opportunity to try.”

Later in the program, he referred to Herold as “sweetie.”

Herold said Thursday that Patton went too far. She said she and her family took her decision to run for state representative very seriously.

“We realize the sacrifice that is involved in holding such a position,” Herold said in a written statement. “However, Tom Patton has crossed a line by trying to turn the fact that I am a mother of two children into a negative campaign issue.”

A message seeking comment was left Thursday with Patton’s office.

In a statement to Cleveland.com, Patton apologized and said his comments “appear to have been misunderstood.”

“As a widower who raised five daughters, it was not my intention to suggest that a young mother couldn’t serve ably in the legislature,” said Patton, who served six years in the Ohio House before moving to the Senate in 2008.

Herold also took issue with being called “sweetie,” saying only one man in her life is allowed to call her that.

“From now on, I respectfully ask you to refer to me as Jen, Jennifer, Ms. Herold, or your opponent,” she said.