OHIO SENATE Dem leader is optimistic

The Republicans are expected to raise a lot more money, the Senate minority leader said.
COLUMBUS -- Gregory L. DiDonato, Senate minority leader-elect, faces a big task as he takes over the reins of leadership: Protect the nine Democratic Senate seats up in November and try to pick up some additional seats.
DiDonato, appointed this week as the next top Democrat in the Senate, is optimistic.
"I think we're going to surprise some people," DiDonato of Dennison, D-30th, said Thursday.
"We've been stuck at 12 [Democrats] for six years," DiDonato said. "It's time we started inching up." Republicans outnumber Democrats 21 to 12 in the Legislature's upper chamber.
Succeeding Herington: DiDonato will succeed outgoing Senate Minority Leader Leigh E. Herington of Portage County effective Feb. 28. Herington is the endorsed Democratic candidate for Ohio attorney general.
DiDonato, currently the assistant minority leader, will be joined in leadership by state Sen. Dan Brady of Cleveland as the new assistant minority leader; state Sen. Mark Mallory of Cincinnati as the minority whip and state Sen. C.J. Prentiss of Cleveland as the assistant minority whip.
When he assumes the leader's position, DiDonato and his leadership team are expected to concentrate on the legislative elections this November.
Seventeen of the Senate's 33 seats are up, including nine seats held by the Democrats.
Competition: Along with protecting Democratic-held seats in the Dayton, Toledo and southern Ohio areas, DiDonato said he expects Democrats to be competitive in the Senate districts that cover Summit, Stark and Lorain counties.
"They all have Democratic indexes," DiDonato said.
DiDonato said Democrats in the Senate were expected to file campaign finance reports late Thursday showing that Democrats ended 2001 with more than $200,000.
DiDonato said he knows the Republicans will raise more than $1 million.
"We are determined to do the best we can to recruit credible candidates and give them some financial backing so they can make it a viable race," DiDonato said.
As the new minority leader, DiDonato said he will also have a hand in policy, though he acknowledges not much will probably remain of the 124th Ohio General Assembly this year as the legislative elections move to the forefront.
DiDonato said he will keep an eye on the state's two-year $45 billion budget, which was adopted last year, and on issues such as predatory lending and landfill regulation.
Bills relating to those issues are pending in the Legislature.
Final term: At this point, DiDonato, who is in his second and final term in the Senate, said he doesn't anticipate seeking the minority leader's position in the 125th General Assembly, which convenes in January.
DiDonato's term ends in 2004.
"It's time for the next generation to see this thing through," DiDonato said.

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