Mike DeWine is seemingly everywhere in Ohio.
He stands before cameras at press conferences in the Attorney General’s office, he pops up at gruesome crime scenes wearing a BCI jacket, he welcomes supporters to his annual ice cream social at his sprawling farm in Greene County, and he shows up at high school track meets to watch his grandchildren.
It’s an image carefully cultivated over decades in the public eye: statesman, top cop, family man.
But when a tough election rolls around, another DeWine dimension emerges: scrappy campaigner.
In 1992, DeWine challenged Democratic U.S. Sen. John Glenn and used the slogan, “What on earth has John Glenn ever done?”
Fast forward 26 years to the 2018 Ohio governor’s race, and DeWine made a similar charge against his Democratic opponent, Richard Cordray.
“You’ve been a failure at every job you’ve ever had,” DeWine told Cordray in their first televised debate Sept. 19 at the University of Dayton.
At an Ohio newspaper editorial board meeting, DeWine rolled his eyes at Cordray and said: “Richard, you’re putting lies up on TV about me every single day. You just really need to get off it.”
This comes as DeWine ran his own ads that accuse Cordray of failing to get justice for rape victims and favoring the release of child pornographers from prison.
The campaign style DeWine followed has worked for more than four decades, launching him from Greene County prosecutor to Ohio state senator to U.S. Representative to Ohio lieutenant governor to U.S. senator to Ohio attorney general and now to governor.
DeWine, 71, grew up in Greene County, where his family owned a seed business. He married Frances Struewing, whom he met in the first grade, and the couple raised eight children — including Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine. They have 23 grandchildren and the 24th is on the way.
DeWine is a man of financial means: he is part owner of three companies that in turn own nearly 1,000 acres of farm land, stocks and a minor league baseball team, The Asheville Tourists. His countryside home and guest house are worth a little more than half a million dollars. He issued a $1 million personal loan to his gubernatorial campaign last year and wrote another $3 million check to the campaign last week, according to campaign finance reports.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper criticized DeWine for the loan, saying it raises ethical issues because of the possibility that if elected, he’ll be forced to raise millions of dollars while in office to repay a campaign loan.
Throughout the campaign, DeWine has accused Cordray of failing to test rape kits while he was attorney general from January 2009 to January 2011, and for failing to protect victims. For their part, Democrats have hammered DeWine about the opioid crisis that has killed thousands in the state, saying his decision to sue pharmaceutical companies for over-marketing powerful prescription painkillers came too late.
The campaign at times seemed exceedingly nasty. At the UD debate, when DeWine mentioned his plan to appoint an opioid czar if elected, Cordray snapped, “Newsflash: we’ve had an opioid czar in Ohio for the past eight years and his name is Mike DeWine. When you see him, tell him he’s done a lousy job.”
Despite the rancor, DeWine emphasized during an interview with the Dayton Daily News that he is someone who can bridge the state’s deep partisan divisions.
“I have proven throughout my career that I bring people together and I fix problems, and those are two attributes for a governor,” DeWine said. “Governor is about working on problems, bringing people together.”
DeWine touted his work in the U.S. Senate, where he championed legislation to require the federal Food and Drug Administration to run trials on pharmaceuticals’ impact on children before they’re marketed to kids
In the attorney general’s office, he said, he’s focused on stopping human trafficking, addressing the opiate crisis, imposing tougher prison sentences on repeat violent offenders, and testing nearly 14,000 previously untested rape kits in cold cases from across the state.
His gubernatorial platform called for increasing funding for children’s services and foster care, investing more money in high-quality early childhood care and preschool, adding mental health services in schools to help prevent shootings and suicides, and using drug task forces to stop the flow of illegal drugs into Ohio.
He vows to sign a heartbeat bill that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, oppose any effort to legalize recreational marijuana and continue Medicaid expansion as long as work requirements and drug tests for Medicaid recipients are included in the legislation.
DeWine said nearly everything in his platform is aimed at helping at-risk children.
“I believe that the future of this state is going to be determined to a great extent by how well a job we do in reaching these kids and breaking the cycle of poverty,” he said. The good news is that if you break the cycle of poverty with one generation, you probably have broken it for many generations.”
Cordray and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor — DeWine’s rival in the GOP primary in May — both criticized DeWine for viewing the governor’s office as the next rung on his political career ladder.
“Mike DeWine has been on a government payroll for the better part of 42 years,” a narrator says in a Mary Taylor online ad.
But at the UD debate, DeWine said he was running for governor “because I want to take us to the next level. I want for every child of this state what I want for my own children and my grandchildren, and that is for them to have opportunity. Opportunity to live their version of the American Dream.
“I will fight for that,” he said. “I will fight for that every single day.”
Opioids: Institute prevention abuse prevention programs at every grade level; expand the use of drug courts to all counties; increase funding for children’s services and foster care; spend any money obtained through Ohio’s lawsuit against drug makers on addressing the crisis; increase use of drug task forces.
Gun violence and control: Increase penalties for repeat violent offenders who use guns in their crimes; add mental health services in schools; improve accuracy of criminal records added to the gun purchase background check system; add school resource officers and continue to allow local districts to decide whether to arm staff inside schools; support a “red flag” law but only if it includes due process measures.
Online charter schools and education: Require that a portion of funding for online charter schools be withheld until test scores show students pass courses; continue the state’s lawsuit to recoup $72 million from the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow; reduce the number of mandated standardized tests; introduce more fairness to the state school funding formula.
Medicaid expansion: Mandate that able-bodied adults meet work requirements to qualify for the health care coverage; require Medicaid recipients to pass drug tests; emphasize prevention and wellness for the 3 million Ohioans on Medicaid.
Criminal justice reform: Institute harsher prison sentences for repeat violent offenders who use guns; work with local judges to encourage sentences that keep non-violent offenders in community programs instead of state prison beds.
Marijuana: Oppose legalization for recreational use.
Abortion: Would sign a heartbeat bill that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
Jobs and the economy: Use technology to better match workers with job openings; expand the use of career tech centers, apprenticeships, and job certification programs; keep taxes and regulations “rational, reasonable and predictive;” create opportunity zones to lure investment of unrealized capital gains; improve transparency at JobsOhio.
Children: Invest more state money into home visits for at-risk pregnant women and for high-quality early childhood care and preschool.