Democrat Sharen Neuhardt, who has twice run for Congress and lives in Greene County, is joining Ed FitzGerald’s campaign as his running mate and taking on incumbent Gov. John Kasich and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor this year.
Just two days after state Sen. Eric Kearney withdrew as FitzGerald’s running mate, Neuhardt found herself face to face with FitzGerald at a fundraiser at Lily’s Bistro in the Oregon District, chatting about who might make a good replacement candidate.
Neuhardt said she assured FitzGerald that she would do anything she could to help him unseat Kasich. Four weeks later, FitzGerald asked her to join the ticket as his lieutenant governor candidate even though she has never held elected office and has twice lost congressional races.
“First and foremost, I believe in Ed FitzGerald. I think he is going to do great things for the state of Ohio,” said Neuhardt, a business lawyer and partner at Thompson Hine in Dayton and a Yellow Springs area resident. “He has done amazing things in Cuyahoga County. And he and I both agree that things are not going in the right direction in Ohio despite how Gov. Kasich likes to talk about how we’re on the right track. We are the 46th state out of 50 in terms of job growth. We need to start doing some things to turn Ohio around.”
She portrayed her lack of political experience as a plus. “I think that it’s an advantage to not be just another politician.”
FitzGerald and Neuhardt will hold a campaign event at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Dayton Cultural and RTA Transit Center to kick off their new partnership.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges called Neuhardt a surprise pick and an unknown candidate, even though she twice ran for Congress — first against Steve Austria and then against Mike Turner. “I don’t remember her. I know she got crushed both times,” Borges said.
Borges took a jab at FitzGerald dropping Kearney and then spending a month looking for a new running mate. “He went to the bench and tapped the third string.”
Neuhardt, who will take a leave from her law firm, is promising to be an enthusiastic fundraiser and campaigner across the state and implied that she’ll appeal to like-minded women.
“I am a strong advocate for women and I am appalled — absolutely appalled — at what the Republican-controlled Legislature and the governor have been doing on women’s health issues. It makes me ashamed,” she said.
Neuhardt, who served eight years on the board of Planned Parenthood of the Miami Valley, drew praise from her fellow Democrats but anti-abortion groups had a different take. Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis called her a “radical” pick designed to gin up the extreme faction within the Democratic party.
“By far, Ed Fitzgerald is out of touch with average Ohioans who at a minimum believe abortions should be rare. Instead of offering ideas and solutions, it’s now obvious that Fitzgerald and his running mate will be fixated on abortion and the juvenile catch phrase ‘war on women.’ It is an insult to women who need and desire real health care solutions,” Gonidakis said.
Kearney dropped out of the campaign after news stories that he and his wife and their media business owned more than $750,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties. Neuhardt said the only debts she has is her home mortgage and a car loan on her red 2013 Chevy Malibu.
Neuhardt, a Dayton native, has the support of new Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.
“Coming from a middle-class Dayton neighborhood, Sharen knows the importance of hard work,” Whaley said in a statement. “I know she is ready not only for the campaign trail but to help lead our state in a new direction.”
Neuhardt grew up in Dayton, one of four daughters. Her father was a Dayton police lieutenant and her mother was an Elder-Beerman sales clerk. Although her parents both failed to finish high school as teens, Neuhardt earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a law degree from Georgetown University. She is married to David Neuhardt, a Thompson-Hine attorney, and they have two adult children and a foster son who is a Rwandan refugee.
While running for Congress against Austria and then Turner, Neuhardt said the lesson learned is that there was little she could say to change voters’ minds in the heavily Republican leaning districts. So, now she likes her chances running statewide, she said.
“I think John Kasich has a real fight on his hands,” she said.
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