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Richard Cordray beats Dennis Kucinich for Ohio Democratic governor nomination

He will be the party’s standard-bearer in one of 2018’s most important governor’s races.

Richard Cordray will be the Democratic nominee in the 2018 Ohio governor’s race.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

Richard Cordray will be the Democratic nominee for Ohio governor, emerging victorious on Tuesday night. He defeated former Cleveland mayor and ex-Rep. Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic primary election.

Cordray, who had progressive icon Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s endorsement, topped Kucinich, who had the backing of Our Revolution, the group aligned with the other progressive icon Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The former state attorney general had been considered the frontrunner, with most polls showing him with an advantage. Cordray fended off attacks from Kucinich that he was insufficiently anti-gun, while tying himself closely to President Obama, for whom he had served as the first official head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

He will face Republican Mike DeWine in the November general election. Election prognosticators had until now considered it nearly a toss-up, perhaps with a slight Republican lean in a state where Democrats not named Sherrod Brown or Barack Obama have struggled to win statewide.

Cordray, then the state treasurer, was elected as Ohio attorney general in 2008 in a special election but lost in 2010 in his bid for a full term — to DeWine. He later served as the first director of the CFPB, the agency created in the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill, from 2012 to 2017.

That likely helped earn him the support of Warren, a progressive stalwart, who came to Ohio in April to campaign for Cordray. He’s also running on a good-government message at a time when the state capitol has been roiled by an FBI corruption probe.

“There’s no way you can paint Rich Cordray as not being progressive,” one Ohio Democrat told me. “He’s taken $12 billion away from Wall Street.”

Ohio flipped strongly toward Trump in the 2016 election, but it could be competitive in 2018. Some unknowns include how much of the governor’s race is about Trump’s struggling approval ratings and whether the popularity of Brown on the ballot could have an effect on the governor’s race.

There is another thing that Ohio politicos are watching. Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger announced last week he was resigning amid an FBI investigation. From the Dayton Daily News:

Sources familiar with the FBI inquiry say investigators are looking at a four-day trip to London in August 2017 sponsored by GOPAC Education Fund. Along on the trip were at least two lobbyists for the payday lending industry. Factions of the industry have been trying to stall or water down House Bill 123, which calls for a crackdown on abusive practices, for more than a year.

Republicans have ruled Ohio since 2010. A high-profile ethics scandal for one of their leaders, in an environment already favorable to Democrats, could give Cordray the steam he needs to get to the governor’s mansion to replace term-limited Gov. John Kasich.

“Kasich is doing his party a favor in that he’s trying to hand the baton off without any sort of ethical problems. But there may be an ethical problem — not with the governor but with the Republican brand,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Democrats have sometimes been aided in big elections in Ohio by GOP ethical and corruption problems.”

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