Democrats Seek To Avoid Primary Fight In Gubernatorial Race

By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - Democrats in Ohio say they hope the announcement by U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (pictured, right) that she may run for governor will not lead to a primary battle next year.

Tubbs Jones, who earlier this year chose not to run for mayor of Cleveland, said Monday that she may be a candidate for governor.

Tubbs Jones, a Democrat, has until February to formally declare her candidacy but said she plans to decide in the next few weeks whether she will seek the nomination to run against Republican incumbent Bob Taft.

Other top Democrats -- including Tubbs Jones' potential competitor for the nomination -- said she would be a formidable candidate who may chase other potential challengers from the race.

"I am considering it," Tubbs Jones said. "I think that perhaps I may have a broader appeal than the other candidates.

"As the only African-American woman running in our gubernatorial race, I would suspect that I would be able to get support on the national level."

The second-term congresswoman said she has campaigned actively for other black candidates around the country and would be able to call on those people as well as the Congressional Black Caucus for funding and support. In each of her two congressional elections, Tubbs Jones has polled more than 80 percent of the vote.

Tubbs Jones said the governor's seat is a better position than the mayor's office to address the issues she is concerned about: education, job training, health care and economic development.

Taft campaign consultant Mark Weaver said Tubbs Jones' entry into the race would be "good news and bad news for the Democrats. It would increase interest in their primary, but the bad news is they would have to spend a lot of resources fighting each other."

"I'm all for it," Weaver added.

But former Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim Hagan, the only announced Democratic candidate for governor, said he would consider dropping out if Tubbs Jones were to run.

"Our fight is not among each other. We agree on 90 percent of the issues," he said. "We need a united party as quickly as we can have it."

Hagan said he still expects to formally file his candidacy in February, but said, "if the party were not united, I don't think I'd want to run."

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Leland said, "I think Hagan is right, that ultimately we have to get together as a party and decide who we are going to rally around."

But he said that he believes both Hagan or Tubbs Jones would be good candidates, and "either one of them has an excellent chance of being the next governor."

Weaver said Taft will run well against either candidate.

"Outside of Cleveland, most people don't know either Tubbs Jones or Hagan," he said. "They have to climb the mountain of name recognition. That's a multimillion dollar problem for them."

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)