Republicans picked a congressional candidate Thursday to replace embattled Rep. Bob Ney in a district the GOP must fight to keep from Democrats trying to wrest control with help from the corruption scandal that forced Ney to drop out.

State Sen. Joy Padgett is backed by party leaders in the special primary against four others in the 18th District. Candidates had only about a month to promote themselves, and voter turnout was low.

Democrats hope the district will help them gain one of the 15 seats they need this fall to take control of the House after a dozen years out of power.

Ney quit the race last month under pressure, citing the strain of an intensifying investigation that had focused for months on his dealings with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ney, a 12-year House veteran, denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged.

Republicans have had a lock on the working-class district for decades. The 16-county district is a conservative region of farms, mines, Appalachian hills and Rust Belt cities that stretches into parts of eastern and southern Ohio. About 57 percent of voters chose President Bush in 2004.

Democrats see an opening because of the Congress corruption investigation and a state scandal centered on a prominent Republican donor, which led to GOP Gov. Bob Taft's no contest plea and conviction on ethics charges.

The winner Thursday will face Democrat Zack Space, the Dover law director who has made his campaign a response to the ethics scandal. He's promised to take no trips, gifts or meals from lobbyists. Ney is being scrutinized for a 2002 golf trip to Scotland paid for by Abramoff.

Padgett, of Coshocton, joined the race after Ney, and Rep. John Boehner, the House majority leader, threw her their support. She represents five counties in the far-eastern part of the district in the state Legislature.

Others in the race are Ralph Applegate of Columbus, who lost to Ney in the May 2 Democratic primary; James Brodbelt Harris, a Zanesville financial analyst who got about one-third of the vote in the primary; Ray Feikert, a Holmes County commissioner; and Samuel Firman, an Army veteran from Coshocton.

Harris has attacked Padgett over her default on a Small Business Administration loan and a $1.1 million bankruptcy filing, accusing her of having a record of financial mismanagement.

Padgett said the default and bankruptcy are the result of economic factors decimating an office-supply store she owned with her husband and that she is working to pay off her debts.