Election Preview: 2018 Ohio Gubernatorial Primary

 Primary Election: May 6, 2018

General Election: November 6, 2018

Republican Governor John Kasich will leave office at the end of 2018, as rumors of a potential 2020 presidential bid swirl. Governor Kasich’s pending departure creates an opportunity for several candidates in both parties to serve as chief executive of a bellwether state.

Two contenders have emerged in the Ohio Republican Primary, Attorney General Mike DeWine and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor.  According to a January poll form the 1984 Society, a nonprofit bipartisan group of former Ohio Senators and Senate employees, DeWine leads Taylor by 40 points in the GOP primary. The poll included a sample of 800 likely voters with 32 percent undecided. DeWine’s strong showing comes after U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci dropped out in December to pursue a Senate seat. Meanwhile, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted ended his campaign in November to join the DeWine ticket as the Lieutenant Governor.

DeWine has served in public office for more than 40 years.  As a former Senator, Congressman, Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, and State Senator, DeWine’s name recognition will certainly prove advantageous in the primary. DeWine and Husted have already locked up large swaths of donors and support, netting $10.8 million in cash. Moreover, the Ohio Republican Party endorsed his campaign in February during their central committee meeting.

During her speech to the committee, Taylor called the conference “Mike DeWine’s living room” and said “This absolutely represents the good ole’ boy career politician establishment that wants to have things their way.”

As her speech illustrates, Taylor has positioned herself as a conservative outsider competing against a well-established Republican. She has tapped Cincinnati businessman Nathan Estruth to serve as her running mate and has enlisted Axiom Strategies, a public affairs company founded by Jeff Roe. Axiom gained notoriety working with Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign in 2016. While her chances remain slim, Axiom could prove valuable for identifying funding sources outside Ohio.

Taylor could also out flank DeWine from the right. The Attorney General has a long record of policy decisions, including some controversial stances on guns which Taylor could expose. She is also making hay over DeWine’s refusal to debate (the Democratic party has hosted four debates, while the GOP has provided none). An early endorsement from Kasich could turn Trump Republicans against her and without an open forum to attack DeWine’s record, it will become difficult to close the gap.

In the Democratic primary, four candidates from diverse backgrounds have emerged, but none have become the clear cut favorite. Richard Cordray, the former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director, led all Democratic nominees with 24 percent in the 1984 Society poll, while 54 percent remain undecided. Prior to the poll, Cordray announced that former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton would join his ticket. Sutton was viewed as Cordray’s biggest challenger, but the move did little to separate him from the pack. As a former Ohio Attorney General and Treasurer, Cordray worked in President Barack Obama’s administration and has a personal relationship with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. His campaign has focused on kitchen table issues like jobs, consumer protection, and wages.

If Cordray does win the nomination, he faces a big challenge in defeating DeWine. According to the 1984 Society poll, Cordray is down 21 points to DeWine in a head-to-head matchup, with only 23 percent undecided.

Ohio_Tara Samples and Dennis Kucinich
Kucinich and Samples on the Campaign Trail

Trailing behind Cordray in the Democratic race is Dennis Kucinich, with roughly 16 percent. The former Cleveland Mayor and congressman has strong ties to Northeast Ohio, where much of the Democratic vote in Ohio is concentrated. His progressive record hinges on a populist economic message that could attract Democrats who voted for Trump. His liberal credentials could also prove beneficial in a midterm energized by the base. Kucinich has tapped Akron City Councilwoman Tara Samples to serve as his running mate.

Ohio_Joe Schiavoni.jpg
State Senator Joe Schiavoni

While he only has four percent in the 1984 Society poll, State Senator Joe Schiavoni remains a strong contender with a high ceiling. His campaign has focused on reforming charter schools, protecting worker rights, maintaining Medicaid expansion and implementing gun control measures. He is also pushing for more reliable internet access in rural Ohio.

A 38-year-old Democratic lawmaker from the Youngstown area, Schiavoni has blue collar appeal in an area popular with Trump. Schiavoni, a former Golden Gloves champion, is the only Democrat to serve in statewide office during Kasich’s second term. Moreover, being a candidate outside the “party establishment,” Schiavoni has portrayed himself as a fresh face for a party seeking relevance in Ohio again (Republicans have controlled the Governor, state house and senate since 2010). Yet, spreading his campaign’s message will require more exposure and resources. Schiavoni has selected Stephanie Dodd, a former member of the Ohio Board of Education and operator of a nonprofit that specializes in fundraising and event planning, to serve as his running mate.

Trailing behind Schiavoni is Ohio State Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, a pro-life Democrat from Chagrin Falls. O’Neill wants to legalize marijuana and use the tax revenue to re-open state mental health hospitals. O’Neill created controversy in December when he posted on Facebook that he had slept with 50 women throughout his life. He currently has three percent support.

During a March 7 debate in Toledo, all of the Democratic candidates attacked Cordray as the party favorite for his decision to accept $200,000 from lawyers and lobbyists. Kucinich and O’Neil also attacked his “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. Schiavoni then went after Kucinich for meeting with Syrian Dictator Bashar Al Assad in 2017 after he had used chemical weapons to kill his own people. The former mayor defended the visit saying it was in the interest of peace.  All the nominees said they would veto any right-to-work legislation. Kucinich and O’Neill called for full legalization of marijuana, while Cordray said Ohio should only take that step with a statewide vote.

Every candidate said they would work with Trump when he is right and oppose him when he is wrong.

The Cook Political Report and Inside Elections has labeled the race as leaning Republican.

 

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