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John Kasich, Republican gubernatorial challenger to Gov. Ted Strickland, confirmed this afternoon the rumor that state auditor Mary Taylor, currently the only Republican to hold a statewide office, will be his running mate. Democrats across Ohio could be heard heaving relieved sighs, as Republicans helped them snatch victory from the jaws of self-engineered defeat.

The auditor’s office, while not a sexy, high-profile position, is critical to shaping the state’s political future in one significant respect: It’s one of three state offices — along with governor and secretary of state — that determine who controls the apportionment board that redraws state legislative districts every 10 years following the census. When the Republicans controlled the 2000 redistricting, they sliced and diced the state in such a manner that they currently hold a 2-1 margin in the state Senate, despite voters statewide casting a nearly equal number of votes for Republicans and Democrats.

With the Democrats fielding a candidate for secretary of state who loses support every day as more Democrats learn about her extreme anti-choice stances, that office — currently held by Democrat Jennifer Brunner — will almost certainly go to Republican Jon Husted in November. And it’s more likely than not that Gov. Strickland will be reelected. So, for both parties, everything hinges on the normally low-profile auditor’s race.

Unlike some observers, I think that Democratic candidate David Pepper had an excellent shot at defeating Taylor. He was outpacing her anemic fundraising, he’s got an excellent resume in Cincinnati/Hamilton County politics, and he’s a clear, focused speaker who’s good at explaining how the auditor’s office can be used creatively to bolster the state’s economy and how fair apportionment benefits citizens — a pitch with an appeal to independents as well as Democrats. By contrast, Taylor, who ran on proficiency, citing her credentials as a CPA, has taken to using her office for partisan fishing expeditions and attacks on Democratic-led government offices. She’s also become a “teabag” sympathizer. See the video below.

Without the advantage of incumbency and without a strong potential replacement for Taylor in sight (well-funded GOP state treasurer candidate Josh Mandel said pointblank today he is not switching races), picking up this seat has become exponentially easier for Pepper, while the Democrats’ chances of controlling the apportionment board became considerably brighter. It’s hard to see what Republicans gain. Taylor’s largely unknown anywhere in the state (did you even know she’s from Northeast Ohio? Neither does anyone else around here), she won’t bring money to the race, and there’s no novelty in having a woman lieutenant-governor candidate: Governors Voinovich and Taft both had women lieutenants. — Anastasia Pantsios

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