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COLUMBUS Taft's expected re-election bid awaiting O'Connor's plans



Published: Mon, November 19, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



O'Connor has served as a Summit County judge.

By JEFF ORTEGA

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

COLUMBUS -- Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor's decision to test the waters for an Ohio Supreme Court seat next year could mean that Gov. Bob Taft will be searching for a running mate as he prepares to crank up his expected re-election bid.

O'Connor was among several potential candidates to appear before an Ohio Republican Party screening committee earlier last week for one of two seats that will be up for grabs next year on the high court, Gary Abernathy, party spokesman, said.

Justice Andrew Douglas turns 70 next year and is prevented from running again. Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton's seat is also up for grabs. Republicans have a 5-2 majority on the high court.

Stratton was among those who met with the screening committee last week at state party headquarters.

State GOP officials say Stratton is expected to receive the party's endorsement. O'Connor could be a strong candidate for the GOP endorsement for the second seat.

What's likely: Mark Weaver, a political consultant working with Taft, said O'Connor could remain on the ticket with Taft if her plans to run for the Supreme Court fall through.

"If, for some reason, she's not running for Supreme Court, the governor has the greatest confidence that Maureen O'Connor will be an asset to the ticket," Weaver said.

Before becoming lieutenant governor, O'Connor was a Summit County prosecutor and a former Summit County common pleas court judge. O'Connor also has served as a magistrate in Summit County Probate Court.

If O'Connor runs for the high court, speculation is swirling as to who might become Taft's running mate.

Among the possible names being mentioned is State Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, R-Aurora.

Potential: Taft is focusing on the state's budget issues, not who his running mate might be, Weaver said. But Weaver said Taft thinks highly of Womer Benjamin, who's exploring a bid for secretary of state next year.

"She's certainly one of the people in the mix," Weaver said. He said there haven't been any conversations with her.

"I'm running for secretary of state," said Womer Benjamin, who is prevented by term limits from seeking another consecutive two-year term in the Ohio House.

The Supreme Court screening committee is to make a recommendation in the coming weeks to the state Republican Party's Executive and Central Committee, which will make the endorsements.

The filing deadline for statewide candidates is in February.




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