Rep. Ney Easily Wins GOP Primary in Ohio
Blackwell Advances in Governor's Race

(Gold9472: Can someone explain to me how someone currently under investigation could win a Primary?)

By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 3, 2006; A08

CHICAGO, May 2 -- Rep. Robert W. Ney, an Ohio Republican under suspicion for his dealings with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, scored an easy primary victory Tuesday night amid a fight to avoid indictment and keep his job on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R) and Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) skated to victories in their Senate primaries, officially setting up a race that could be among the most competitive and expensive of the year.

Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a social conservative, won the Republican primary for governor. He will face Rep. Ted Strickland (D), a seven-term congressman, in November as the Democrats seek to win the office for the first time since 1986.

In North Carolina, Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong won a three-way Democratic primary to keep the job that propelled him to national prominence after last month's rape allegations against Duke University lacrosse players. He obtained indictments against two players in a prosecution that his sharpest critics say was partly motivated by his political ambitions.

In other Ohio congressional races, Rep. Jean Schmidt -- a freshman best known for calling Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a decorated Marine veteran, a coward during a floor debate on Iraq -- was leading former congressman Bob McEwen. The GOP winner is expected to take the seat against weak opposition in November.

State Sen. Charlie Wilson (D) looked likely to win the nomination for Strickland's seat as a write-in candidate. He spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the primary against two little-known candidates after failing to qualify for the ballot because of a signature mix-up. Former state representative Betty Sutton (D) won a tough primary for Brown's seat.

Democratic victories in Ohio are considered essential if the party is to reach its goal of winning control of the Senate and House. The Senate race is considered a toss-up, and several House races are competitive, a rarity in an age when incumbents almost always triumph.

The state is also seen as an important test of the national Democratic strategy to challenge the competence and ethics of the GOP leadership.

Republicans have occupied the governor's office since 1990 and now control the state's political levers. But a series of scandals have combined with a stuttering economy to give the Democrats hope. The state's industrial base is shrinking, with announcements of new automotive industry cuts contributing to voters' perception that the state and the nation are on the wrong track.

Analysts expect that the heaviest drag on Republican ambitions will come from Gov. Bob Taft (R), whose approval rating fell below 20 percent after he pleaded no contest to accepting secret gifts. Many came from Tom Noe, a local Republican Party leader accused of defrauding the state workers'-compensation fund.

Noe has also been charged by a Toledo grand jury with funneling $45,400 in campaign contributions to President Bush's reelection campaign. Several Republican candidates, including Blackwell and DeWine, hurried to donate the money to charity after the scandal broke.

Ney is becoming as much a target as Taft. He accepted gifts, including meals, sports tickets and a golf trip to Scotland, from Abramoff and his lobbying team. Prosecutors investigating criminal allegations against Ney said he collected "a stream of things of value" in exchange for official actions.

Despite his legal troubles, Ney continued to raise a significant amount of money for his race against Republican James Harris, a financial analyst.

If Ney stays in the race, as he has vowed he will, his November opponent will be Zachary T. Space, a Dover lawyer who outdistanced Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer and two other opponents in the Democratic primary.

Blackwell, who led the fight for an Ohio marriage initiative that helped Bush edge out Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004, is the favorite of the state's conservatives. Two Columbus area churches are the subject of a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service by 56 clergy members who say the churches and their affiliates have improperly boosted Blackwell's candidacy.

Church representatives deny wrongdoing, and the IRS has declined to say whether any inquiry is underway. Blackwell, who blasted as "bullies" the 31 religious figures who signed an earlier complaint, is the second African American to win a gubernatorial nomination this year. The other is Pennsylvania Republican Lynn Swann, a former football star.

Voters in Indiana handed primary victories to all nine House incumbents and to Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R), who was unopposed.