COLUMBUS, Ohio – Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland won for governor in scandal-scarred Ohio on Tuesday, ending 16 years of Republican control of the office leading into the 2008 presidential election.
Strickland, 65, defeated fiscally and morally conservative Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who gained national attention for his handling of the 2004 election that clinched President Bush's victory that year.
Strickland's win in Ohio was based on a statistical analysis of the vote from voter interviews conducted for The Associated Press by Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International.
The governor's job will be a catbird seat for the 2008 presidential election because the state's leader will be influential in campaigning for his party's candidate. No Republican has won the presidency without taking Ohio.
Democrats' campaigns gained steam this year amid a state investment scandal and ethics questions that unfolded with the GOP in charge. The party last saw its nominee win the governor's office in 1986, when voters picked Richard Celeste.
Blackwell conceded the race in an early-evening phone call to Strickland, a statement from his campaign said.
"Ted, you ran a good race and have won a tremendous opportunity to lead the people of this state to better days, a stronger economy and a higher quality of life," he said in the statement.
Strickland not only won big among traditional swing voters, including independents and women, but he also did better than expected with groups who normally favor Republicans — those who attend church weekly and rural residents, according to exit poll results.
About a third of Ohio's voters who backed President Bush two years ago supported Strickland this time around. Strickland also won a wide majority of voters who were worried about the state's economy and political scandals.