Surrounded by friends and family and a pack of journalists, Democrat Richard Cordray launched his 2018 bid for Ohio governor in a local diner in his hometown in suburban Columbus on Tuesday, promising to focus on kitchen table issues.
The question is, will Democrats in Ohio see him as their best hope against a Republican field of familiar faces?
Cordray, 58, is the sixth candidate to jump into the Democratic primary race. While he is the only candidate to have been on the statewide ballot five times — winning twice — his delayed entry into the race means he will be working on a compressed timeline to re-introduce himself to Ohio voters and raise the $20 million in cash needed to run a credible gubernatorial campaign.
On the first day after his announcement, Cordray will hold a public event in Dayton at the Old Courthouse at 301 W. Third Street at 12:15 p.m. Wednesday. he will also campaign in Cincinnati and Toledo.
The primary is May 8.
“I will deliver results and I’ll do it the Ohio way. The way I’ve always done things,” said Cordray, with his wife Peggy at his side. “Not by stirring conflict, sowing division or pitting people against one another. We are seeing way too much of that from Washington, D.C.”
Related: Cordray announces exit from federal postHe declined to talk about the others in the race but did say, “I’ll take on all comers at every stage and I think we will do very well. But it’s up to the voters to decide that. I’ve certainly learned that over the years.”
Until last month, Cordray served as director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal post that prohibited him from discussing politics while he held the job. Appointed to the post by President Barack Obama, his term was due to end in July.
Cordray said Obama wrote him a letter in January, shortly before leaving office, encouraging Cordray to keep fighting at the CFPB.
“I needed to finish my work properly there and be satisfied that I wouldn’t regret for the rest of my life things that we put years of work into, like the payday lending rule, which we finalized this fall,” he said. “I could feel as the year went on that there was a bigger fight developing back here in Ohio and that it’s a fight that we’re seeing over the soul of America in terms of how we handle politics, how we handle our communities, how we treat one another. That is something I want to be part of.”
Related: DeWine-Husted ticket called a ‘dream team’ by GOP lawmakerCordray emphasized that he has never left Ohio, saying he commuted between Columbus and D.C. more than 300 times during his six years at the CFPB.
“This is my hometown and I never became a creature of Washington,” he said to applause by the small group of supporters at Lilly’s Kitchen Table. “It (Washington, D.C.) always was strange to me and I found that I developed new allergies when I went there.”
His primary opposition at this point is: Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former state representative Connie Pillich of Cincinnati, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Akron and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill.
Cordray declined to discuss his potential running mate or campaign strategy. “We are going to get a lot of help nationally because there is a lot of interest in this race and a lot of interest in my candidacy,” he said.
Republicans running include Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor of Green, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci of Wadsworth and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine of Cedarville. DeWine is running with Secretary of State Jon Husted of Upper Arlington.
Related: Who is running for governor?Cordray’s strength in the race would seem to be his name ID and connections to Obama, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other high-profile Democrats who may be willing to help him raise money. Also, he has a lengthy political resume: Ohio attorney general, state treasurer, county treasurer, state representative, law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court justices, Ohio State University law professor, Ohio Solicitor General, intern to John Glenn and five time Jeopardy! champion.
His entry in the race comes the day after four of the five Democrats in the race debated in Cleveland. O’Neill did not appear and has said he would drop out if Cordray got in.
Whaley issued a written statement, saying in part that she looks forward to voters comparing the candidates’ records.
DeWine campaign spokesman Ryan Stubenrauch said in a written statement that Cordray is the sixth Democratic candidate who wants to “bring failed liberal policies to Ohio.”
Any Democrat would appear to have a difficult road. Although Ohio is a swing state in presidential contests, by the time Republican John Kasich finishes his second term, the Ohio GOP will have controlled the governor’s office for 24 of the past 28 years.
If DeWine is the GOP nominee and Cordray gets the Democratic party nomination, the general election will be rematch of 2010 when the two faced off in the attorney general’s race. DeWine beat Cordray, the incumbent, by 48,686 votes — a margin of 1.28 percent.
Cordray on Tuesday said if it comes to that next year, he’ll look forward to taking on DeWine again.