In his run for reelection, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, has touted his record handling the pandemic, especially in its early days.
But Tuesday he faces three primary challengers, each a supporter of former President Donald Trump. They have tried to attract voters frustrated by the fact that DeWine was the first governor in the country to shut down K-12 schools, that he issued health orders to shut down businesses and that he quickly implemented social distancing requirements.
While Ohio was lauded for keeping down the spread of COVID-19, animosity also stirred among those calling for him to open businesses back up.
Now DeWine is the first incumbent governor of Ohio to face a primary challenge since 1978.
“When did we start taking away these rights? That’s the real issue that I’m hearing as I travel around Ohio. And that’s the concern I have too,” says Republican Jim Renacci, who is running against the governor. Renacci, a former congressman, says DeWine went too far with his health orders.
Also on the ballot is Joe Blystone, a farmer and businessman who says he never even thought about running for public office until DeWine’s COVID-19 response, which included a statewide mask mandate. “Our rights [were] severely stomped on,” he says.
Former state Rep. Ron Hood is also running. He’s held a low-profile campaign, rarely doing news interviews.
All three challengers have positioned themselves further to the right of DeWine and as the pro-Trump candidate of the race — the president has not endorsed anyone in the gubernatorial race. That’s left the challengers splitting the anti-DeWine vote and turning their attacks on each other.
DeWine, who has spent more than 40 years in public service as a Republican, defends his conservative record. He notes that he has signed bills that lift gun regulations and expand abortion restrictions, something all four Republicans support.
“So, this has been from a social conservative and a fiscal conservative point of view — a very, very conservative administration,” he says.
Democratic voters in the state have the choice between two candidates Tuesday, both former mayors of southwest Ohio cities.
Nan Whaley, the former mayor of Dayton, announced her candidacy in the gubernatorial race more than a year ago. She also ran for the Democratic nomination in 2018 but bowed out before the primary to throw her support behind eventual nominee Richard Cordray.
John Cranley, former Cincinnati mayor, entered the gubernatorial race in August of last year.
As the mayors of large Ohio cities, the two have been colleagues for years. They were both part of the Ohio Mayors Alliance and have joined forces to call for state policy changes, such as increased state funding for local governments.
The race between the two Democratic candidates has been fairly tame aside from two major issues; abortion rights and population growth.
Whaley has hit Cranley over his stance on abortion rights. Cranley once positioned himself as anti-abortion with a record of supporting measures that restrict the procedure. But, before entering the race, Cranley announced he had changed his position and is now a supporter of abortion rights. Meanwhile, Whaley has been for abortion rights her entire career.
Both candidates have said they would veto any bill that restricts abortion.
In return, Cranley has aired a negative ad that criticizes Whaley’s time as mayor in Dayton. Cranley said his time in Cincinnati proved to be successful as the economy and city grew, while he claimed Dayton’s population declined during that same span.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, has endorsed Whaley as being pro-worker, but Whaley says that doesn’t mean she is anti-business.
“I think being pro-worker is being pro-business, actually. What I hear over and over again from businesses is they can’t find a strong enough workforce. And I think a lot of that has to do with one; making sure that we invest in our workers from the very young age, and two, that we pay them well,” Whaley says.
Both Whaley and Cranley said they know they will need to work with a Republican-dominated legislature that’s been resistant to Democratic proposals to get their agendas accomplished if elected. And both point to situations where they have been able to do that in their own communities.
Cranley said he’s sure his plans will work for Ohio as he made a promise at the end of his campaign ad, “We are not going to insult you with platitudes and false promises. Our plans will lead to real results. If we don’t get it done in my first term, I won’t run again.
The primary is expected to have a low turnout with early voting already lagging behind 2018 numbers.
Jo Ingles, from the Ohio Statehouse News Bureau, contributed to this report.