Despite personal attacks and millions spent in the primaries for governor, Ohio voters picked two establishment candidates who have lengthy political resumes, proven fundraising abilities and reputations for being, well, kind of boring.
Republican Mike DeWine handily won over Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, 59.8 percent to 40.2 percent. Democrat Richard Cordray steamrolled former Congressman Dennis Kucinich, beating him by nearly 40-percentage points in a six-way primary.
“They were not movement candidates, but establishment candidates, and voters seem to be okay with that,” said University of Dayton political scientist Christopher Devine. “In fact, these results would suggest that Ohio voters are more inclined to nominate someone who seems qualified and electable than someone who is an anti-politician or an ideologue.”
Voter turnout hit 20.9 percent of Ohio’s 7.9-million registered voters, slightly below gubernatorial turnout average over the past five cycles. In the primaries for governor, 679,738 voters cast Democratic ballots while 827,041 voted GOP ballots.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday tweeted: “Congratulations to Mike Dewine on his big win in the Great State of Ohio. He will be a great Governor with a heavy focus on HealthCare and Jobs. His Socialist opponent in November should not do well, a big failure in last job!”
President Obama appointed Cordray director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a job he held into the Trump administration until he resigned in November so he could run for Ohio governor. Cordray’s campaign commercials featured footage of Obama praising him.
On the question of who is more boring? Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper didn’t even try to say Cordray is actually Mr. Excitement. Pepper said in a head-to-head debate between the two nominees, “I don’t think it’ll be even a close call as to who presents himself as serious-minded, as earnest about solving our problems and as passionate about solving those problems.”
In their victory speeches Tuesday night, Cordray and DeWine each gave a glimpse of what’s to come.
Cordray pledged to crackdown on payday lending abuses and failing charter schools, invest in workforce training, education and infrastructure projects, and continue the expanded Medicaid program started by Republican Gov. John Kasich that extended health care to 725,000 more low-income Ohioans.
DeWine said invited Republicans, Democrats and Independents to join him in the effort to build a “more prosperous Ohio, a better educated Ohio and a drug-free Ohio.”
He promised to focus on improving public education and workforce training, helping people battle opiate addiction and cracking down on drug dealers. DeWine said his administration would be job-friendly by cutting regulations and keeping taxes low and predictable.
“Jon and I are just getting started. Wait until you see what we can do in the governor’s office,” DeWine told his supporters.
Eight years ago, DeWine ousted Cordray from the attorney general’s office. Since then, DeWine won re-election as attorney general and gained publicity — negative and positive — for testing nearly 14,000 long-forgotten rape kits and leading to more than 4,700 DNA matches to suspects, being Ohio’s “top cop” during state’s deadly opioid crisis, filing a lawsuit against makers and distributors of addictive painkillers central to the crisis, and leading the investigation into the eight murders in Pike County — still unsolved after two years.
Meanwhile, Cordray gained a national platform, leading the powerful Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and gaining support from well-known Democrats such as Barack Obama and Elizabeth Warren. Cordray says under his watch, the bureau returned $12-billion to 30 million Americans. Under funded, Kucinich criticized Cordray in public platforms such as the media and party debates. Taylor, however, spent big money on TV ads against DeWine.
Pepper argued that Taylor’s attacks and the negative tenor of the GOP race will hamper DeWine going into the general election.
Cedarville University political scientist Mark Caleb Smith disagrees.
“I do think the bruising nature of the GOP contest may actually help DeWine if the current dynamics hold,” Smith said. “If it is true, as both DeWine and Taylor’s behavior would indicate it is, that Trump is popular in Ohio, DeWine will need to appeal to his voters, not only substantively, but rhetorically. His decision to hit back, hard, at Taylor will probably appeal to Trump voters who value Trump’s pugnacity.”
He also noted that incumbent Gov. John Kasich, who endorsed Taylor in the GOP primary, appeared to be a non-factor in the race.
“In this sense, Donald Trump appears to be the most important image within the Ohio GOP,” he said.
Laura Bischoff is our Columbus bureau reporter and covers politics and state government. She keeps a close eye on elected leaders, public employees and taxpayer money. Bischoff tries to write stories that inform voters, hold leaders accountable and strengthen democracy.