Rep. Bob Ney formally requested Monday that his name be removed from the November election ballot, ensuring that a special primary election will be held to replace him as the Republican candidate.
His letter officially notifying election officials ends a week of speculation about whether he would wait until after Aug. 19, when party leaders would have been able to appoint a replacement.
Ney announced he would withdraw from the race a week ago, citing the strain of an intensifying corruption investigation that had focused for months on his dealings with lobbyists. The six-term congressman denies any wrongdoing and has not been charged.
Democrats targeted Ney's seat in the wake of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. The eastern and southern Ohio district has been solidly Republican, but Ney's campaign began hemorrhaging money after his former chief of staff pleaded guilty to conspiring to corrupt the congressman and the Justice Department subpoenaed Ney aides in Ohio and Washington.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett said he spoke to Ney on Monday morning and they discussed the decision to have a primary instead of letting local party officials choose a new candidate.
"He told me he really thought the voters of the district should make the decision in selecting the candidate, rather than the party chairmen," Bennett said.
Democrats hope the opening in Ney's 18th District — a conservative region of farms, mines, Appalachian hills and Rust Belt cities in central and eastern Ohio — will help them gain one of the 15 seats they need this fall to take control of the House.
The Tuscarawas County Board of Elections, which will oversee the election as the district's most populous county, received Ney's two-sentence resignation Monday morning. The board plans to meet Tuesday morning to determine the next steps.
State Sen. Joy Padgett of Coshocton is Ney's and House Majority Leader John Boehner's choice to replace Ney, but there have been questions over whether she is eligible to run after losing her bid to become the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor. Attorney General Jim Petro, her former running mate, offered an opinion last week that she could run.
Padgett said Monday she's leaving the legal arguments to the party officials and focusing on starting her campaign. She said she still needed to learn what formal steps to take to become a candidate.
Bennett expects others to enter the special primary, which he expects to be held in mid-September.
The Democrats' nominee, Dover law director Zack Space, has signaled that his campaign focus on corruption won't change with Ney's departure from the race.
"Regardless of who's on the ballot, whether its Bob Ney or his hand-picked successor and Bob Taft appointee Joy Padgett, Zack Space is the only candidate to take an ethics pledge," Space campaign manager Joe Shafer said. Padgett was appointed in 1999 as liaison for Appalachian issues by Gov. Bob Taft, who pleaded no contest for failing to report gifts.
Democrats do not agree with Petro's opinion that Padgett is unaffected by a law called the "sore loser statute," which generally keeps primary losers from running as independents or write-in candidates in the following general election. The Ohio Democratic Party is awaiting Padgett's formal declaration of candidacy before taking any legal action, spokesman Brian Rothenberg said Monday.
Petro wasn't asked about the relevance of another law that prohibits a person from running for state and federal office in the same election, which Ohio's GOP-controlled legislature approved to prevent Democrat Ted Strickland from running for governor and Congress at the same time.
Democrats argue that law and the sore loser statute should keep Padgett from running because of her lieutenant governor candidacy this election cycle, Rothenberg said.