BY SANDY THEIS
Enquirer Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS -- While Bob Taft is running for governor, he's not the sitting governor. Yet his new campaign ad might give some the false impression that he's already holding the top job.
The 60-second spot, which began airing this week, ends with a message that says: "Bob Taft Governor."
Democrats want the ad changed, and plan to file an official complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission on Monday. The Taft campaign says the complaint is without merit.
Taft spokesman Brett Buerck noted that Democrats Lee Fisher, the candidate for governor, and Richard Cordray, who is running for attorney general, have used nearly identical slogans in their campaigns. He also said an appeals court already has determined that the language is legal.
Still, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Leland plans to file the complaint. He cited literature from Mr. Taft's office that advises candidates "not use wording that would make someone think that the candidate is the incumbent."
Mr. Taft, a Cincinnati Republican, is completing his second term as secretary of state, Ohio's chief election officer. His duties include appointing election board members and preparing regulations and instructions for the conduct of campaigns.
In his 1998 Campaign Finance Reporting Handbook, Mr. Taft advises candidates to be clear about whether they are incumbents running for re-election, appointees who are running for election or candidates seeking a new office.
Appointees "may use words such as "retain' or "keep,,' " the handbook states. "Others should use words such as "vote,' "for' or "elect,' in a manner that indicates that they are not the incumbent." Mr. Buerck insists the Taft ad is not misleading.
"If it were to say, "Governor Bob Taft,' that's misleading," he said. " "Bob Taft Governor' is not." He cited a 1995 court ruling favorable to Lou Briggs, a state representative candidate who paid for billboards that stated: "Lou Briggs State Representative Strong New Leadership.' "
The Ohio Elections Commission ruled against Ms. Briggs, saying she unfairly conveyed the impression she was a state representative. An appeals court, however, ruled in her favor, saying the billboard is "no so much false as it is ambiguous."