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MAHONING COUNTY Prosecutor Gains eyes a run for attorney general



Published: Fri, August 31, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A Republican candidate for attorney general says the county prosecutor is a 'formidable candidate.'

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul J. Gains expects to decide by Oct. 1 whether he will run for Ohio attorney general.

"There's inquiries being made in an attempt to gather support," Gains said. "I've had people talk to me about it. We're plugging along."

Gains spoke last week with Ohio Democratic Chairman David Leland about running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general in next year's election. Leland also asked a number of local Democrats about a Gains candidacy.

The Democratic chairman is speaking to several other potential candidates, most notably Lee Fisher, a former attorney general who unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1998.

Serious thought: State Treasurer Joseph Deters, who will run next year in the Republican primary for attorney general, takes Gains' potential candidacy seriously.

"I think Paul would be a formidable candidate," said Deters, who was in the Mahoning Valley on Thursday for the Canfield Fair. "He's been in court fighting crime, and there's no question that is what Ohio wants in an attorney general. It doesn't surprise me the Democrats are looking for a prosecutor to run for attorney general. It's a good fit."

Deters, a former Hamilton County prosecutor, will face Ohio Auditor Jim Petro for the Republican nomination for AG in what is expected to be next year's most competitive primary.

Deters echoed the previous comments of Leland that Gains is a compelling candidate because the local mob ordered a hit on him in an attempt to keep him from taking office. Gains survived the December 1996 shooting at his home.

"I had a lot of threats against me and my family, but I've never been shot," Deters said. "I had people on the radio in Cincinnati urging that I be shot, but I've never actually been shot, so Paul's got one up on me there. I think Paul's a good prosecutor, but I'd stack my record against Paul's."

Political consultant: Gains has enlisted the assistance of local political consultant Vic Rubenstein to help him with his exploratory committee.

Before a decision can be made on his candidacy, Rubenstein said, Gains and his advisers have to evaluate his potential competitors, determine if he can raise money because he would need about $2 million for a run, see if he can attract key northern Ohio Democrats to his campaign and determine if he can persuade southern Ohio Republicans to vote for him.

"He seems to be very, very serious about this," Rubenstein said.

Some local Republican and Democratic leaders privately dismiss Gains' chances of winning the Democratic nomination for attorney general, but state officials in both parties say his story of getting shot by the Mafia will play well throughout Ohio.

If Gains gets the Democratic nomination, he can expect a fight from his Republican opponent for votes in the Mahoning Valley. For Gains to have a shot in the Democratic primary and/or the general election, he would need at least 70 percent of the Valley vote, Rubenstein said.

Popular figure: Petro, who has made two trips here in recent months, is a popular political figure and vote-getter in this area. Deters is trying to make inroads here, visiting the Valley for the third time in less than three months.

"We're running around the state pretty hard, but everyone in Cincinnati already knows me," said Deters, who is from that city. "It's really quite foolish for me ... to be down there. The Valley is very important. You would never take an area like the Valley for granted. We're going to be up here all the time."

Deters also disputes that the Mahoning Valley is "Petro Country."

"That's a lot of insider talk, but our poll doesn't reflect it," he said. "Our polling reflects that people generally know Jim and think he's done a good job as auditor, which he has. But the question is who do they want to be their attorney general."

skolnick@vindy.com




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