COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Democrat Richard Cordray, Ohio's treasurer, won the race for attorney general on Tuesday, retaining the powerful office for his party following a high-profile scandal.
Cordray, 49, defeated Republican Mike Crites, a former U.S. Attorney who wooed voters with a tough-on-corruption message and a TV ad campaign painting Cordray as a career politician in the mold of former attorney general Marc Dann, who was forced to resign in May.
With 13 percent of the vote counted, Cordray was leading with 61 percent of the vote. He called it a great night.
"I did run for this office 10 years ago, so it feels like we're finishing a project at long last," Cordray said.
Republicans hoped to regain control of the chief law enforcer's office in the wake of the embarrassing series of events that ended with Dann's resignation. He held the office for less than two years. Independent candidate Robert Owens, 35, a Delaware lawyer, also sought to exploit the scandal as he offered voters a choice without ties to a major political party.
Both faced long odds against the better-known and better-funded Cordray.
"He already had money saved from his last race for state treasurer," Crites said. "He had a leg up, we knew that early on."
Cordray built on a campaign fund left over from his 2006 run to raise a total of $2.5 million in the truncated contest, compared to Crites' $159,000. Dann was forced out of office by fellow Democrats after seeing top aides implicated in a sexual harassment scandal and admitting to an affair with an employee. He had won election in 2006 as part of the party's near sweep of statewide offices long held by Republicans. Cordray campaigned largely as a front-runner, dismissing even the most serious of Crites' attacks as byproducts of the "silly season."
Yet Crites, 60, hammered away at Cordray's response to the scandal, his management of the treasury and his receipt of a $10,000 donation from the stepdaughter of a Columbus-based salesman for Wachovia Securities two weeks after he took office in 2007.
Wachovia reportedly saw an increase in its role managing the state's bond trading after the donation. Cordray returned the donation and said he had never traded state business for campaign donations.
Crites proposed initiatives to clean up the office and boost morale after the Dann scandal deflated many on the staff, including asking lawmakers to establish a statewide commission to prosecute allegations of felony-level corruption in public office. Cordray pledged to focus the office's attention on the Wall Street crisis by holding accountable any rating agencies, investment banks or lenders that played a role. He said he would attack the consumer debt epidemic by taking action against credit card companies that make false promises, particularly to college students. A lawyer with an economics degree, Cordray previously was Franklin County treasurer, state solicitor and a state representative.
Crites, now a managing partner at a private law firm, gained attention as U.S. attorney for his prosecution of Cincinnati Reds baseball great Pete Rose for tax evasion.