By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Ohio Treasurer Joseph T. Deters, who is running for state attorney general next year, said Ohio Auditor Jim Petro, his Republican primary opponent for the position, is mistaken to believe the race is locked up.
"His campaign would like you to think that, but it's not," Deters told The Vindicator during an interview Friday. "You get out of northeast and southwest Ohio and people don't know either of us. It's very arrogant to say people know who you are. They don't. They don't know what an attorney general is."
Petro said earlier this month that he expected Deters to withdraw from the race before the May 2002 Republican primary. Petro said he has locked up the support of 75 percent of the Republican county chairmen and the endorsements of several key GOP leaders and that Deters cannot beat him.
Won't withdraw: In response, Deters said he has no plans to withdraw from the Republican AG primary and that he will win because he has raised more money than Petro and will successfully get his message out during the campaign.
"The voters will have to decide if they want a tough prosecutor or a tough auditor to be attorney general," said Deters, a former Hamilton County (Cincinnati) prosecutor.
Petro cannot seek a third four-year term as auditor because of the state's term limits law. Deters, in his first term as treasurer, could run for re-election next year, but says, "I know where my heart is and it's practicing law and fighting crime."
Deters said he is often asked why he just doesn't wait to run for attorney general in 2006 because Petro is considering a gubernatorial run that year.
"It would have been the easy thing to do, but I didn't go to Columbus to get a job," he said. "If I can't do what I love to do, I'd go back to southwest Ohio and practice law."
Also, U.S. Sen. Michael DeWine is considering running for governor in 2006, which could cause Petro to back out of running for that position that year, Deters said.
Waiting isn't an option: Waiting another four years to run for attorney general is "a lifetime away and I'm mystified by the talking heads speaking about what will happen years from now," Deters said.
Deters said he was somewhat burned out as a county prosecutor when he decided to look for a change and run for state treasurer in 1997.
But he is committed to serving eight years as attorney general if elected next year. Deters said the winner of the Republican primary will be the next AG. Geauga County Sheriff George "Red" Simmons, who has a law degree, is the only Democrat to announce plans to run for attorney general next year.
When contacted for a response to Deters' comments, John Hughes, Petro's senior campaign adviser, said: "We'll just continue our plan to do what we've planned to do all along. We can't control what [Deters] is going to do and what he's not going to do. Whatever happens is going to happen."
Deters said if elected attorney general, he would concentrate his efforts on closing down drug houses, cracking down on gang activity and encouraging county prosecutors not to plea bargain with suspects charged with committing crimes with a gun. Deters also said he supports a carry-and-conceal law as long as those with handguns are properly screened and trained.
Thoughts on Traficant: When asked about U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., the Mahoning Valley congressman facing a 10-count federal indictment on charges including bribery and racketeering, Deters said Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Morford, who is prosecuting the case, is going to have his hands full with the legislator.
Traficant of Poland, D-17th, "is playing for a jury nullification and he just needs one out of 12," Deters said. "If they get him, I'll be surprised. It was very smart for him to go on the radio. I know what he's doing. We all know what he's doing. Craig knows it. Some jurors are very sophisticated and sometimes they just don't listen to the judge's instructions."