COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Former U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach announced a run for Ohio attorney general on Tuesday, giving Democrats one of their strongest chances next year to cut into Republicans’ total hold on state government.
Though a novice to elective politics, Dettelbach, 51, of Cleveland, has spent 20 years as a federal prosecutor, arguing cases against corruption, drug trafficking and terrorism. He served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio from 2009 to 2016 and also has done stints at the Justice Department, the Senate Judiciary Committee and has served on the Ohio Ethics Commission.
His work in the Senate included tackling national security issues following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and helping craft the enforcement provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, which sought to rein in corporate corruption after the Enron and WorldCom scandals.
Ahead of his campaign announcement Tuesday, Dettelbach said he held meetings with urban foreclosure victims in Cleveland and those touched by the heroin and opioid crisis in Appalachia. He was struck by how many Ohioans of all political stripes believe the “system is rigged” against them, he said.
Dettelbach pledged that as attorney general he would assure the law works equally for everyone.
“I’ve spent 20 years as a prosecutor and I have learned that when people stand up for the rule of law, the law can be a really positive force — the law can assure that vulnerable people are protected and powerful people are held accountable,” he said. “And that’s really why I’m running.”
Dettelbach faces two-term Republican Ohio Auditor Dave Yost for the seat being vacated by Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine. DeWine is term-limited and expected to run for governor. Yost, 60, is a former Delaware County prosecutor and journalist.
The Ohio Republican Party already took aim at Dettelbach last week, after his as-yet-unannounced campaign launched an unfinished website that misspelled the candidate’s name as “Dettlebach.” The GOP called it an embarrassing slip for someone who touts his cybersecurity expertise.
“A fumble like this proves that Steve Dettelbach is not ready for prime time,” party spokesman Blaine Kelly said in a release. “Over the next year, he should hone his skills by visiting Auditor Dave Yost’s fully functional cybersecurity page.”
Dettelbach said he didn’t want to compare himself to Yost but to focus on his own qualifications, including the 180-member staff and $20 million budget he managed as U.S. Attorney.
The Republican Attorneys General Association immediately took aim at Dettelbach on Tuesday, alleging he has inflated a record that has included recommending or fighting for lesser sentences for white collar criminals and friends.
“A former classmate of Barack Obama, Dettelbach helped write the Democratic platform at their 2016 convention in Philadelphia, and praised it as ‘the most progressive platform in history,’” Executive Director Scott Will said in a statement. “Ohioans rejected Hillary Clinton and Dettelbach’s far left agenda in November because they recognized how out of touch with average working people Democrats had become.”
As a sitting statewide officeholder, Yost enters the race with a statewide bully pulpit. He has used the office of auditor to investigate school attendance matters and enhance fiscal accountability education and tracking. In announcing his run for attorney general in January, Yost said fighting human trafficking and the state’s addictions epidemic and supporting law enforcement officers are his top priorities.
Dettelbach, a Harvard Law School graduate currently working as a partner at BakerHostetler, said he has prosecuted both Democrats and Republicans in corruption cases and would not show political favoritism if elected. He said he wants to focus on the “things that actually matter to the working families of Ohio” and avoid the “intrigue” that swirls around Columbus and Washington.
“I’m not part of that and I don’t plan to be part of that,” he said.