FitzGerald picks SW Ohio senator as running mate for governor bid

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A Democrat challenging Republican Gov. John Kasich for the seat next year picked a friend and ally of President Barack Obama as his running mate on Wednesday.

Ed FitzGerald, a former FBI agent and the executive in Democrat-heavy Cuyahoga County, announced his selection of Cincinnati lawyer and state Sen. Eric Kearney on Twitter ahead of a news conference scheduled for Thursday in Cincinnati. Kearney has led the Democratic caucus in the Republican-led Ohio Senate since January 2012.

Kearney, who is black, lends racial and geographic diversity to the top of Democrats' 2014 ticket that is thus far little known to most Ohio voters.

He can be expected to help draw votes in Cincinnati, where FitzGerald, of Cleveland, still has scant name recognition. Obama's first run for president sparked an outpouring of African-American voters in and around Cincinnati so strong the area's long-time Republican congressman temporarily lost his seat.

In that 2008 campaign, Kearney served on the national finance committee of Obama's campaign and as a state co-chair. His wife, Jan-Michele, was a Harvard law school classmate of the president.

The president is less popular now in Ohio, a battleground state.

Ohio Republican Chairman Matt Borges suggested in a statement that the GOP will capitalize on Kearney's ties to Obama -- and the president's troubled federal health care overhaul -- in next year's election.

"(Kearney) offered continued praise and defense of Obamacare even after its disastrous rollout," Borges said.

Kasich has maintained his opposition to the health care law. However, he has joined other Republican governors across the country in supporting an expansion of Medicaid provided under the law to insure poor adults in their states.

At Kasich's urging, an obscure legislative panel approved Medicaid expansion in October after the Republican-led legislature had declined to act.

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