Democratic gubernatorial contender Ed FitzGerald, left, introduced Ohio Democratic Senate Minority Leader Eric Kearney as his running mate on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, in Cincinnati. Kearney has now quit the ticket. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

Less than three weeks after picking a prominent state senator as his running mate in one of the most closely watched gubernatorial races,  Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (D) is headed back to the drawing board.

Ohio state Sen. Eric Kearney (D) on Tuesday withdrew his candidacy for lieutenant governor after a series of questions over back taxes he and his wife owe the Internal Revenue Service and state agencies. After being named to the ticket in late November, Ohio newspapers uncovered several tax liens that showed Kearney, his wife and their media company had up to $1 million in federal tax liens against them.

FitzGerald and Kearney both cited the back taxes, which they called “distractions,” as a reason for Kearney’s decision to end his bid.

Kearney’s exit was likely a political necessity, though it causes FitzGerald a major headache. In a letter to supporters announcing his decision to choose Kearney, FitzGerald said picking a running mate is the “first real decision a governor makes.” Allies of Gov. John Kasich (R) are sure to use that against him as the race heats up.

Kearney hails from Cincinnati, a major source of Democratic votes. FitzGerald, who is from Cleveland, is likely to look to someone from Columbus or Cincinnati to give the Democratic ticket a regional balance.

Ohio is one of five states — along with Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan — with governor’s races expected to draw tens of millions in campaign spending next year. Kasich’s poll numbers took a dive early in his first term, but they have recovered. FitzGerald will need to run a nearly flawless campaign to beat Kasich — and having to pick a new running mate isn’t a good start.