With Ohio's Governor Matchup Settled, Here's What To Look Forward To

May 8, 2018

Game on.

The field is set for this fall's Ohio gubernatorial race, with the Associated Press calling both the Democratic and Republican races early in the evening.

Despite all the millions spent on attack ads, charges and counter-charges, it turned out pretty much the way most people expected it would – former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray, the Democrat, will face the present attorney general, Mike DeWine.

Constance Gadell-Newton, the Green party candidate, also will be on the November ballot. 

They're running for a wide-open seat – incumbent Republican John Kasich is term-limited and off to pursue other dreams, perhaps another run at the presidency.

Some things are certain: Cordray-DeWine will be closely watched all over the country, and it will likely become the most expensive governor's race in Ohio political history.

Here are a few things Ohio voters can look forward to in the coming months:

The Democrats: A Wave or Another Wipe-out?

The last two statewide gubernatorial elections in Ohio – 2010 and 2014 -have been unmitigated disasters for the Ohio Democratic Party.

The Republicans ran the table on the Democrats when it came to the statewide constitutional offices.

Democrats have been hoping – praying – that 2018 would be a different story. Hoping that Ohio voters who came out for Donald Trump in 2016 are less mesmerized by Trump's rhetoric and bombastic personality and ready for a return to normalcy.

Cordray, a buttoned-down, very much in control politician if there ever was one, could fit that bill. It matters because the Ohio Democratic Party has already found that weak candidates at the top of their statewide ticket have dragged the rest of their statewide candidates down into the abyss.

It is difficult to see an experienced politician like Cordray be as bad a general election candidate as Ed FitzGerald, the former Cuyahoga County executive who ran for governor in 2014 and nearly single-handedly destroyed the Ohio Democratic Party.

The Republicans will have to earn it this time – the Democrats aren't likely to hand it to them on a silver platter again.

The Rematch

If history is any guide, a DeWine-Cordray match-up could end up as a very close race on election night in November.

Eight years ago, the two went head-to-head for the Ohio attorney general's office.

At that time, the Democrat was the incumbent, having won a 2008 special election to replace the disgraced Attorney General Marc Dann, forced to resign after a sex scandal in his office.

Corday was up against DeWine, who, for one of the few times in his adult life, was out of public office, having been defeated in his bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate.

Cordray, in a year when most Democratic statewide candidates were going down hard, was at least competitive – he lost to DeWine by one percentage point.

Defining Cordray

It's very clear what DeWine and the Republican Party plan to do with Cordray – paint him as a far-left radical, out of step and out of touch with the average Ohioan.

Take the Republican Governor's Association (RGA), for example. You expect them to wade into the Ohio governor's race with both feet, most likely spending millions attacking the Democratic nominee.

They already have a campaign logo for their effort. It features a photo of a mean-looking Cordray. That, in and of itself, must have been a challenge – there can't be too many mean-looking photos of the affable and boyish-looking Democrat out there to choose from.

The RGA message next to the photo is very pointed indeed: Richard Cordray: Washington D.C.'s Most Power-Hungry Bureaucrat.

Republicans have been making hay for months over the fact that Cordray was chosen by President Obama (who won Ohio twice as a candidate for president) as the first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a bureaucracy they believe was created to stymie the nation's financial industry and do Sen. Elizabeth Warren's work for her (Warren has endorsed and campaigned for Cordray).

Yes, Cordray spent seven years in that putrid swamp of Washington, but he came away with a pretty good populist argument to make to Ohio voters – he recovered $12 billion for American working people who believe they were bilked by banks, Wall Street and pay day lenders.

Makes for a pretty good line in a stump speech.

Defining DeWine

The GOP candidate's primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, insisted on calling him "D.C. DeWine" because of the many years he spent in Washington as a member of the U.S. House and Senate.

Being a creature of Washington is apparently poisonous to a Republican candidate, although it didn't seem to hurt him much in this GOP primary.

And no Democrat is going to attack DeWine for spending too much time in Washington. Most voters don't care.

Democrats will say that the 71-year-old DeWine has been around too long, offers no fresh new ideas.

What you can expect is the Democrats (not necessarily Cordray himself) going after DeWine who has essentially done nothing in his adult life but run for office. DeWine has spent most of the past 42 years in one election office or another – Greene County prosecutor, Ohio Senator, lieutenant governor, member of the U.S. House, two-term U.S. Senator, and, now Ohio attorney general.

Good line. However, Cordray, 59, has been a member of the Ohio House, county treasurer, state treasurer, Ohio attorney general. Not exactly a stranger to the halls of government.

And, then again, who decided that experience was a bad thing?

 "Politically Speaking" is WVXU reporter Howard Wilkinson's weekly column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us. Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974. Read more of his columns here

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