COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Democrat Ed FitzGerald easily won the Democratic primary for governor on Tuesday, setting up a high-stakes showdown this fall with incumbent Republican John Kasich.
The 45-year-old FitzGerald, of Lakewood, is the county executive in Cuyahoga County, the state's most populous Democratic stronghold. He's a former FBI agent, mayor and prosecutor tapped to clean up county government after a corruption scandal.
His defeat of Larry Ellis Ealy, a little-known high school dropout from suburban Dayton, had been expected. He had hatched his plan to run for office from a jail cell, hoping to tackle oppression of minorities, legalize marijuana and educate and house the homeless.
With Tuesday's primary behind them, FitzGerald and Democrats turn their attention to November.
The Kasich-FitzGerald match-up is expected to be among the nation's most closely watched governor's races, with some $10 million in combined fundraising — mostly by Kasich — already reported.
FitzGerald said his campaign will focus on restoring a feeling of confidence to the middle class.
"Ohio is being run by an administration that is dedicated to serving a small, privileged group of people, and ordinary Ohioans have been left out and stuck with the bill," he told supporters gathered Tuesday.
Kasich, 61, a former congressman, investment banker and Fox News commentator, plans to keep the focus on his economic record.
His campaign began airing biographical TV ads on April 15 that emphasize Kasich's blue-collar roots and dedication to creating an economic climate conducive to job growth.
The state unemployment rate fell to 6.1 percent in March, the lowest rate in six years.
"The governor's record of creating jobs, balancing budgets and cutting taxes resonates with Ohioans across party lines and we look forward to talking about this strong record all the way to November," spokeswoman Connie Wehrkamp said Tuesday.
Both men have female running mates.
FitzGerald will be joined by Yellow Springs attorney Sharen Swartz Neuhardt, a former candidate for Congress known for her outspoken support for abortion rights.
Kasich is partnering again with Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, a former state auditor and lawmaker from the Akron-area suburb of Green.
The governor was uncontested Tuesday, but that didn't mean his road to primary victory was without its bumps. A fellow Republican and a tea party activist both tried but failed to mount successful primary challenges against the first-term governor.
Tuesday sealed fall primaries in Ohio's other statewide races as well, in which sitting incumbents, all Republicans, as well as their Democratic challengers were unopposed.
Attorney General Mike DeWine will face Cincinnati lawyer David Pepper, a Democrat; Secretary of State Jon Husted faces Democratic state Sen. Nina Turner, of Cleveland; State Auditor Dave Yost faces Democratic state Rep. John Patrick Carney, of Columbus; and State Treasurer Josh Mandel faces Democratic state Rep. Connie Pillich, of suburban Cincinnati.
Messages seeking comment were left with Ealy.