Associated Press: GOP hoping to avoid 3-way race

The Associated Press is reporting that political analysts believe the narrowing field of Democrat gubernatorial candidates, and the preeminence of Democrat Ted Strickland (a conservative on social issues such as gun rights) is going to bring additional pressure upon the GOP to narrowing their "three-candidate" field for governor now that the Democrats have a front-runner (the AP and OhioGOP continue to ignore the declared candidacy of Republican Pete Draganic).

From the story:

    Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, Attorney General Jim Petro and Auditor Betty Montgomery are seeking the Republican nomination.

    Bob Bennett, the state Republican chairman since 1988, is considered a master at avoiding primaries, saving campaign money and maintaining party unity. But much work is ahead of him if he is to dodge one on May 2.

    No independent statewide polling has been conducted recently, but most polling by the campaigns finds Blackwell leading among Republicans. In response, Petro has been airing a series of television ads, calling Blackwell's plan to curb government spending risky and presenting his own credentials as a values-oriented conservative, ground currently claimed by Blackwell.

    Bennett helped to encourage Taft to leave the 1990 race for governor in favor of George Voinovich and persuaded Blackwell to step aside for Taft in 1998.

    The party will conduct a poll before the Feb. 16 candidate filing deadline, spokesman John McClelland said. The party hopes the results will persuade at least one candidate to seek another office, he said.

Betty Montgomery is the only one of four GOP candidates who has consistently taken anti-self-defense positions over the past few years. Ken Blackwell is the only one of the three state-wide officeholders who is term-limited and who must seek another office in 2006.

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Party officials told the AP they will conduct a poll before the Feb. 16 candidate filing deadline, and provide the results to the candidates. The party hopes the results will persuade at least one to seek another office.

Again from the story:

    A three-way primary could push the party to the right as the candidates try to appeal to conservatives, who are more likely than moderates to vote in primaries, said John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron.

    "Just from the point of view of a party, it would be better to have a clear-cut battle between a conservative candidate and a moderate candidate," Green said.

All three campaigns say their candidates are in to stay.

William Binning, a Youngstown State University political scientist who has worked with Republican officeholders, told the AP that the pressure is on Chairman Bennett.

"The party's role is paramount now," he said. "Once the filing date occurs, I don't think the party can do much. The game is on."

Should an anti-self-defense candidate like Betty Montgomery somehow win the GOP primary, and should Ted Strickland maintain his lead among Democrats, Ohioans who "Vote Freedom First" are, for the first time in years, going to have a better choice on the Democrat side of the ticket. And if he is as smart as the party gives him credit for, that is what should be keeping Bob Bennett up at night.

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