Whaley, 41, who lacked broad name identification beyond the Dayton region, brushed off questions about whether she’ll run for statewide office in the future.
“Nan Whaley and the other early candidates - Connie Pillich, Betty Sutton, Joe Schiavoni - all suffered from a lack of statewide name recognition,” said University of Dayton political scientist Christopher Devine. “As long as they were the only candidates in the race, Whaley had a chance. That changed when Cordray entered the race, given that he has won statewide office, has a national profile, and can tap into a wider network of campaign donors.”
Related: Cordray launches campaign for governor
Cordray picked Sutton, a former congresswoman from the Akron area, as his running mate and secured Whaley’s endorsement — moves that further solidify the impression that Cordray is the apparent Democratic front runner, Devine said.
But the Democratic primary is still unsettled with five candidates — Cordray, former legislator Pillich, state senator Schiavoni, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill and former Congressman Dennis Kucinich — vying for the nomination.
Schiavoni praised Whaley for her campaign, but said he was disappointed she endorsed Cordray and Sutton, a team he called the “anointed ticket.”
Kucinich, who has run twice for president and served in Congress, also has strong statewide name ID.
Cedarville University political scientist Mark Caleb Smith said landing Whaley’s endorsement helps Cordray, especially with Kucinich formally joining the race next week.
“Kucinich is interesting and has high name recognition. He will bring some level of intrigue to the race and if he can stay disciplined, he can challenge Cordray, especially for the left-wing of the party, but I still think Cordray is the front-runner as of right now,” Smith said in an email.
Nan Whaley For Digital
Whaley said endorsing Cordray was an easy move once she came to terms that she needed to exit the race.
“The race is really starting to get serious. When you look at what’s going on in the state of the race, particularly how the monarchy is setting up on the Republican side, we need to get serious as Democrats and unite,” she said. “I’ve always thought that Rich is has been a terrific candidate and a terrific public official.”
Republicans running for governor are: Attorney General Mike DeWine of Cedarville and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor of Uniontown. DeWine picked Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted as his running mate while Taylor is teaming up with Hamilton business executive Nathan Estruth.
Related: DeWine and Husted combine forces in governor’s race
Related: Taylor picks Hamilton business executive as running mate
Two upcoming dates are crucial for the candidates: Jan. 31 is the deadline to report campaign fundraising numbers for the last six months and Feb. 7 is the deadline for filing paperwork to qualify for the May primaries.
Whaley said she’ll work on the governor’s race as well as the campaign to re-elect Democrat Sherrod Brown to the U.S. Senate.
Cordray said nobody looks forward to a primary but it’s an opportunity to test battle plans and sharpen the message.
“If you have a primary, you make the most of it and you learn from it and you get better. Competition is good for us,” he said.
Earlier this month Whaley was sworn in for a second term as Dayton mayor. She ran unopposed in last November’s election.
“I’m looking forward to working hard to make improvements to our city,” Whaley said Friday.
Related: Dennis Kucinich running for Ohio governor