The favored candidate to take Rep. Bob Ney's spot on the ticket can legally do so under Ohio law, the state attorney general said Thursday.

Secretary of State Ken Blackwell had sought the opinion from Attorney General Jim Petro as Republicans considered how to replace Ney, who announced this week he would not seek re-election.

State Sen. Joy Padgett is the leading candidate, and would be eligible to enter a special primary or replace Ney on the November ballot, the attorney general said.

Ney, a six-term GOP lawmaker, has come under scrutiny for his ties to Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist at the center of a congressional corruption scandal. Party officials had feared the loss of his seat.

Ney denies wrongdoing and has not been charged.

Ohio's so-called "sore loser" law generally prevents candidates defeated in a primary from running for office in the fall as an independent or write-in. Padgett ran for lieutenant governor this spring with Petro, who lost the GOP nomination for governor to Blackwell.

Padgett's status in the May primary was not covered by the law, and she is free to seek Ney's seat, Petro said. Padgett got on the May ballot by "declaration of candidacy," a term not covered by the law, he said.

Blackwell, as secretary of state, is Ohio's chief elections officer.

Democrats probably will take the case to court once a special election is set or if Padgett is certified for the November ballot, said Brian Rothenberg, spokesman for the state Democratic Party.