SUDDES: Looking ahead to the 2022 primaries in Ohio

A year out from November 2022′s statewide election is as good a time as any to risk predicting who’ll run for what, and win, subject to Ohio’s May 3 primary election:

U.S. senator: The Republican nominee will be former State Treasurer Josh Mandel or “Hillbilly Elegy” author and entrepreneur J.D. Vance. The Democratic nominee will be U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, of suburban Warren (Ryan’s being challenged for the nomination by Columbus Democrat Morgan Harper).

Next year’s election will be a mid-presidential-term election, with Democrat Joe Biden in the White House. Political lore says candidates of the non-presidential party do well in midterm elections (e.g., Virginia’s gubernatorial election and, almost, New Jersey’s). Advantage: Republicans Mandel or Vance, unless gasoline prices fall and food prices at least flatten, in which Ryan has a fighting chance.

Governor: Incumbent Republican Mike DeWine vs. former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley or former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley. No one likes a family fight more than Democrats, so the Cranley-Whaley fight will be … spirited.

GOP challengers (e.g., ex-Rep. Jim Renacci, of Wadsworth) nip at DeWine’s heels, but DeWine, a moderate conservative, has been tacking rightward to soothe the GOP’s right-most wing. (Good luck with that: There’s no pleasing some people.) But Mike DeWine will be renominated, and Democrats should remember this:

Besides DeWine’s good stewardship of Ohio’s finances and his wise quarterbacking of Ohio’s COVID-19 response, the last time a Republican governor failed to win re-election in Ohio was in 1958 – 63 years ago. That’s when Republican Gov. C. William O’Neill was unseated by Toledo Democrat Michael V. DiSalle, thanks to Ohio’s labor movement, now a shadow of what it was.

Yes, the House Bill 6/FirstEnergy scandal is a blot on DeWine’s administration. But the refusal of our scaredy-cat General Assembly to fully repeal HB 6 suggests Statehouse insiders think the bill may be causing less political damage than initially thought.

Supreme Court chief justice: Justices Jennifer Brunner (a Democrat) and Sharon Kennedy (a Republican) want to succeed retiring Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. For the first time in more than 100 years, party labels will accompany the names of Supreme Court candidates. Conventional wisdom has been that Ohio’s unlabeled Supreme Court ballot benefited Republican candidates. (Democrats last controlled the court in 1986.) But the GOP-run legislature, which recently added party labels to the Supreme Court and Ohio Court of Appeals ballots ballot, evidently doesn’t believe that.

Even with the new ballot format, though, judicial candidates are still forbidden to say much of anything when they campaign, which means voters will still have to play name-games. Kennedy will likely note, as she has, that she’s “the Republican Kennedy,” and Brunner will get some traction with her German American surname in a state where a plurality of Caucasian voters has German roots.

The Ohio General Assembly: Come what may in assorted courtrooms over the gerrymander, Republicans have an advantage in money and history and will likely keep control of both the state Senate and the Ohio House. No one wants to say it out loud, but House Democrats – like House Republicans from 1973 through 1994 – appear to have become accustomed to being the Ohio House’s minority party, as they have been in Ohio’s Senate since 1985.

Ultimately, like or loath what GOP General Assembly members do in Columbus – and there’s lots to dislike – Republicans must govern, despite their faction fights, and that takes work. It also attracts campaign donations. In contrast, Democrats get to criticize the GOP majority (justified, often as not) without breaking into a sweat.

At this writing, it’s likely Republicans will emerge in November 2022 with intact majorities in Ohio’s House and Senate. Then, maybe, Republicans can stop politicking over irrelevancies like guns to address this fact:

From 1959 through 2020, real per capita personal income in Ohio grew at an average annual rate of 2.07% – ranking 47th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia; Ohioans have been losing ground for more than three generations.

That’s the statewide issue, or should be, in 2022, especially in Northeast Ohio and Appalachia: Which candidates can walk their talk and usher the most Ohioans to better times?

Thomas Suddes is an adjunct assistant professor at Ohio University. Previously, he was a veteran Statehouse reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer.

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