Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine won the Republican nomination in the Ohio governor’s race, besting Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and setting himself up as the slight favorite for November.
DeWine, the mainstream candidate and presumptive favorite for most of the campaign, beat Taylor, who hugged tightly to President Trump and slammed DeWine as opposed to Trump on core issues like immigration and trade.
He will face off against Democrat Richard Cordray. Election prognosticators have 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.
The establishment stigma doesn’t mean DeWine is a moderate: He is a vocal abortion opponent who worked with Kasich to try to defund Planned Parenthood and has said he would have signed a bill banning abortion once a heartbeat is detected, which Kasich had vetoed.
But Taylor turned it into a race with her aggressive tactics. “If you like President Trump, then you won’t like Mike DeWine,” narration from a recent pro-Taylor PAC ad begins, citing DeWine’s alleged heresies on immigration, guns, and trade.
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 Democrats the steam they need 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.”
Kasich is looming over the entire race. He is relatively popular overall but has turned off many in the Republican base with his anti-Trump rhetoric — and he keeps publicly fueling the speculation that he might try to topple Trump in the 2020 GOP presidential primary.
Here’s the rub for DeWine as he is running to replace Kasich: He might indeed be broadly popular — 51 percent approval, per Morning Consult — but the GOP base is turning against him. A recent poll found that only 44 percent of Republicans approve of their governor, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, while 77 percent approve of Trump.
“They’re running as fast as they can away from” Kasich, one Ohio Republican told me.