By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
Five county Democratic parties are officially endorsing the 2006 gubernatorial candidacy of U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland.
Strickland, of Lisbon, D-6th, had served or is serving as the U.S. House member of the five counties.
At the top of the list as far as population is Columbiana County, where Strickland resides.
Strickland represented the four other counties -- Highland, Pike, Clinton and Ross -- for four two-year terms in the U.S. House before statewide congressional redistricting took effect after the 2002 election.
The four counties are in the southern part of the state, where Democrats running statewide have fared poorly for years. However, Strickland, originally from Lucasville in the southern county of Scioto, won four congressional races in that area.
In the 2004 election, President Bush defeated Democrat John Kerry in all five counties. Bush, a Republican, received 70 percent of the vote in Clinton County, 66 percent in Highland, 55 percent in Ross and 52 percent of the vote in Columbiana and Pike counties.
"We wanted to show our support for Ted in the strongest way possible," said Clinton County Democratic Chairwoman Ann Reno. "He's not only been a great congressman, he's been a real friend. He's just like family."
Ross County Democratic Chairman Steve Madru also praised Strickland, and said his party was giving the congressman its "strong endorsement to be the next governor of Ohio."
Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman is the only other announced Democratic candidate for governor. His lone endorsement to date is from the Democratic Party in his home county of Franklin.
The population of Franklin County is more than 1 million. The combined population of the five counties that have its Democratic Party backing Strickland is about 300,000.
"We believe the voters should decide who the best person is to lead the state," said Dan Trevas, Coleman's campaign spokesman. "Mike Coleman is fighting the corruption in the state government that is leading to cuts to local governments, big and small, the loss of health care to our most needy Ohioans, and to the tax increase on the middle class families."
Republicans running next year for governor include Attorney General Betty Montgomery, Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, auditor Jim Petro and Pete Draganic, a political newcomer.