The battle for the Republican nomination for governor of Ohio continues to escalate.  Ken Blackwell (currently Ohio Secretary of State) has launched TV spots that portray Jim Petro (currently Ohio Attorney General) as corrupt.  According to the spots, Petro's ethics are "worse than [Governor Bob] Taft's."  It has gotten so bad that Ohio GOP chairman Robert Bennett has sharply rebuked the Blackwell campaign.

[Blackwell's] tactics drew swift rebukes from Taft and Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert T. Bennett, who indicated last week that he planned to speak out if he thought the race was getting too dirty.

"The race for governor should be a contest of ideas, not smear tactics and attack ads," Bennett said in a statement. "I expect this kind of negative campaigning from the Democrats, but Ken Blackwell should have a better strategy for winning this primary than simply burning down the house. A man who models himself after Ronald Reagan should have a little more respect for winning on ideas and vision."

Referring to Blackwell, Bennett said: "He knows the accusations in these ads are politically motivated, and this kind of guttural politics doesn't win votes. If we can't win with substantive ideas for leading Ohio, we don't belong in the race."

Taft spokesman Mark Rickel said the governor is "focused on moving this state forward . . . while others clearly are focused on the kind of smear tactics that voters rejected in November" in the campaign surrounding four proposed constitutional amendments.

"Within two weeks of Chairman Bennett's call for a civil and spirited campaign, Ken Blackwell has aired probably the most deceptive and vile political attack I've ever seen," said Bob Paduchik, Petro's campaign manager. "I think Ken Blackwell is in danger or alienating a lot of Republican primary voters."

There's only one problem with Bennett's condemnation of Blackwell's anti-Petro ads.  They are probably true...

Last week, a spokeswoman for Petro acknowledged that he had stripped $2 million in annual legal work from three Akron-area firms aligned with Summit County GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff, an avowed Petro enemy. An Akron lawyer close to Arshinkoff, Jack Morrison, has accused Petro of threatening to terminate a state contract with his firm if Morrison didn't pony up campaign cash.

Petro denied the allegation and argued that it is part of an Arshinkoff vendetta. The FBI has made inquiries into Morrison's allegation.

"Petro gave $129 million in unbid legal contracts and expected campaign kickbacks in return," says the TV ad, flashing newspaper articles. "He's used the special counsel program as a fundraising ATM. His ethics are worse than Taft's."

Ah, decisions, decisions.  Should Ohio Republicans support the ethically-challenged Jim Petro or fundamentalist darling Ken Blackwell.  This unappealing choice may help explain why Democrat Ted Strickland - Reverend Ted Strickland, to be exact - leads Blackwell 47-35 and Petro 44-37 in the latest Rasmussen poll.

Originally posted to KTinOhio on Tue Feb 21, 2006 at 10:39 PM PST.

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