Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced on Sunday that he is running for Ohio governor, putting him in contention against two other statewide officials and a U.S. congressman seeking the Republican nomination in 2018.
“When I am governor our state will be fundamentally different,” said DeWine. “I will be ready to go on day one. I will walk through the door with a plan and I will be ready to get to work.”
He focused most of his comments on the need to help families and children succeed, waiting until the end of his speech to to throw in more traditionally conservative remarks about supporting low taxes and controlling spending.
“What we should want for all children in the state of Ohio is exactly what we all want for our kids,” DeWine said. “Too many children are growing up in troubled, stressed families” and cannot achieve their dreams because “of the walls of poverty, drugs and despair.”
DeWine announced his bid for governor in front of about 1,000 people on the front lawn of his Cedarville home during the DeWine Family Ice Cream Social, a nearly-annual event held since 1976 when he was first elected Greene County prosecutor.
In the Republican primary he will face Secretary of State Jon Husted, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci of Wadsworth and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.
On the Democratic side, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former state representative Connie Pillich of Cincinnati, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Akron are in the running.
Statewide tour starts today
On Monday DeWine launches a three-day tour of the state, visiting six cities, including Cincinnati on Tuesday, to talk with families and people at small businesses.
“Ohio is a great state,” DeWine told the crowd of supporters on Sunday, “but we have some very significant problems … The tragedy of our state today is that too many Ohioans will never realize their dreams because they simply lack the education, the skills, the training – and, in too many cases, the sobriety.”
He said at least 10 people die a day from accidental overdoses in Ohio.
“We cannot sit still while we lose a generation of children (to addiction),” DeWine said. “I will take the lead and we will get in front of the epidemic.”
During his speech, DeWine said there are too many schools failing children.
“When these kids fail, we fail,” DeWine said. “When these kids fail, Ohio fails.”
He said he will “focus like a laser … to champion schools that work and hold them up as examples that should be replicated in communities all across the state.”
Former U.S. Rep. Steve Austria, a Beavercreek Republican, said DeWine would do an “outstanding job as governor.”
“As far as his experience, as far as being able to address the needs of Ohio, everything from our children and education, which is so important to this state, to the opiate crisis, to understanding as far as businesses, especially small businesses, being the economic engine of this state and making Ohio a great place to live,” Austria said.
DeWine’s plans to run for governor have been the worst-kept secret in Ohio, especially since he was overheard by a reporter in May 2016 telling a Dayton charter school executive of his plans.
“He’s been hinting around for nine months,” said the Rev. Thomas Wise, pastor of Valleyview Church in Englewood. “I’m glad that he finally delivered the baby.”
Wise, who attended the speech, said he admires DeWine’s honesty and said he is a man of his word.
Kelly Reynolds, 47, of New Carlisle, said she loved what DeWine said about the importance of familes and and the battle against opioid addiction.
“I think it’s amazing what heart he has for people that are addicted,” Reynolds said. “I don’t think we could have a better person run for governor.”
“He gives hope of a future for the children, for jobs and also for the heroin addicts. It’s good to see that he’s going to attack that,” said Joyce Redder, 77, of Cedarville, who taught most of DeWine’s eight children over the years in Cedarville Schools.
40 years in public service
DeWine has been an elected public official since 1977 when he became Greene County prosecutor. He served in the Ohio Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives, and was lieutenant governor, serving with Ohio Gov. George Voinovich. He also was a U.S. senator from 1995 until he was defeated by Democrat Sherrod Brown in the 2006 senate race. In 2010 DeWine ran for attorney general, unseating Democrat Richard Cordray.
Greene County Prosecutor Steve Haller worked for DeWine in Greene County as an assistant prosecutor and he remains a strong supporter.
“He was a high-energy guy,” Haller said. “I still see that same level of energy today and that’s some 40 years later. He’s hard to keep up with.”
“He gave you the leeway to get the job done, but he wanted results,” Haller said.
Haller said DeWine is less about partisanship than about getting things done, pointing to DeWine’s decision once elected attorney general to expedite testing a huge backlog of rape kits that counties had not tested. Haller said DeWine also took the lead in battling the opiate crisis.
“He’s a hard-working, honest guy,” said U.S. District Judge Thomas Rose, who was an assistant prosecutor for DeWine and is his former law partner. “He was an avid prosecutor and he has always been dedicated to public service as long as I’ve know him.”
As attorney general DeWine created a special Crimes Against Children Unit targeting sexual predators, prosecuted numerous consumer fraud cases and boosted training opportunities for law enforcement officers.
An abortion opponent DeWine has defended the state’s abortion restrictions and joined in the federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare. In May he filed a lawsuit against five manufacturers of opioiods and related companies alleging they engaged in fraudulent and deceptive marketing campaigns.
At 70, DeWine is older than the Republicans who have already announced they are running.
Age is less of an issue with voters than it once was, said Mark Caleb Smith, political director of Cedarville University’s Center for Political Studies. He said there are about six governors who are age 65 or older and President Donald Trump is 71.
“I’m not sure DeWine’s age is as much of a negative now that it might have been 20 or more years ago,” Smith said. “Besides, he seems quite energetic and engaged, so regardless of age, he appears more than capable of doing the job.”
When he was a U.S. senator DeWine was criticized by conservatives for his efforts to work with Democrats on legislation. Some dubbed him a RINO, meaning “Republican in name only.” But DeWine remains proud to this day of his across-the-aisle efforts.
“To get a bill passed in the Senate you have to have some Democrat support,” DeWine said in an exclusive interview on Friday. “In politics you have to know how to count.”
He said the conventional wisdom is that he lost to Brown because of the RINO effect, but he said it was a difficult year for Republicans in the 2006 mid-terms and his main problem was he “didn’t do well with independents that year.”
DeWine said he believes he can do well with people who supported Donald Trump for president.
“The interesting thing is Donald Trump’s appeal is to some of the same people that I’ve always been able to appeal to, blue collar Democrat workers,” he said. “I’m a conservative who likes to get things done.”
Smith said the Trump effect is one of the big unknowns about the 2018 election.
“Trump’s victory showed some Republican appetite for radical change in 2016. DeWine, for all of his strengths and experience could not be called ‘radical change.’ Of course, I am not sure it is safe to say Jon Husted would represent radical change either,” Smith said.
“It could be this race will hinge on whether or not Mike DeWine’s extensive experience and background will be a strength or weakness. In normal times, it seems obvious. These are not normal times.”
Who is Mike DeWine?
Family: Married to Fran, eight children, 22 grandchildren
Education: bachelor’s degree, Miami University, 1969; law degree, Ohio Northern University, 1972
Political experience: Greene County prosecutor, 1977-1981; Ohio Senate, 1981-1982; U.S. House, 1983-1991; lieutenant governor, 1991-1994; U.S. Senate, 1995-2007; Ohio attorney general, 2011-current.
Fun fact: He and his family own the Asheville Tourists, a single-A minor league farm team of the Colorado Rockies