Some politicians try hard to be cool and hip, but none of them are named Richard Cordray.
In his run for governor, the Grove City Democrat is fully embracing his nerd image and capitalizing on his five time Jeopardy! champion bragging rights. His campaign rolled out a website, RichKnowsOhio.com, which weaves together Jeopardy! clips from 1987 with modern-day Cordray answering Ohio trivia.
He has a “Nerds for Cordray” fan club and Frances Strickland, the wife of former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, is peddling t-shirts that say #TheNerdWeNeed below Cordray’s face.
Campaigning as wonk-in-chief can be a winning strategy. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder won two terms using the slogan “One Tough Nerd.”
Cordray chuckles when asked if he was a nerd in school. “I was somebody who played quiz games and I ended up on Jeopardy, so certainly I think that probably locates you firmly in the nerd column.”
Cordray, 59, grew up in Grove City, where he still lives with his wife Peggy and their college-age twins, Holly and Danny.
He earned an undergraduate degree at Michigan State University; a master’s in economics from the University of Oxford in England; and a law degree from the University of Chicago. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, taught law courses at Ohio State and Georgetown University, served as Ohio Solicitor General and has argued seven cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
But when it comes to winning elections over the past 28 years, Cordray is batting slightly above .500. He was elected to the Ohio House in 1990 but lost a string of races between 1992 and 2000. After twice winning Franklin County treasurer, Cordray made the jump to statewide office, winning state treasurer in 2006 and a special election for attorney general in 2008.
In 2010, Republican Mike DeWine staged his own political comeback, taking on Cordray for attorney general. DeWine beat Cordray by less than 49,000 votes and has held the post for nearly eight years.
This rematch this year is for higher stakes, though both candidates have aimed criticism at the other’s performance while attorney general.
DeWine, too, has criticized Cordray for the work he did after leaving the AG’s office.
Cordray commuted to Washington, D.C., to lead the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — a national post that drew kudos from consumer advocates and arrows from bankers, payday lenders and most Republicans. The CFPB burdened business with unnecessary regulations, according to GOP critics, and was instilled with too much power.
Cordray, however, touts his work at the CFPB as among his proudest accomplishments, saying that on his watch the agency returned $12 billion to 30 million Americans by cracking down on illegal credit card practices, improper foreclosures, debt collectors and payday lenders.
Cordray resigned his federal post in November 2017 to run for governor. Despite his late entry into a crowded field, he captured 62.2 percent of the vote in a six-way Democratic primary.
The Cordray-DeWine rematch has been unusual in that most governor races aren’t fought over the testing of rape kits. But both candidates have expansive plans on the state’s major issues that show both differences and common ground.
“I want to earn your vote by working hard for Ohio’s hard-working middle class,” Cordray said in his first debate against DeWine at the University of Dayton. “This race is fundamentally about who you stand up to and who you stand up for. I’ll take on the big drug companies and big insurance companies to protect our health care, the same way I took on Wall Street to protect our pension funds.”
In many ways, Cordray is a classic progressive Democrat: He favors abortion rights, legalizing marijuana through a ballot initiative, reforming the criminal justice system, maintaining Obamacare with its prohibition against insurance companies failing to cover people with pre-existing conditions, protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.
On gun violence, he does not support banning assault weapons but does advocate for banning bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, increasing the firearm purchase age to 21, beefing up the gun purchase background check system and improving school safety measures.
He also supports a ‘red flag’ law that would allow a court order to temporarily seize weapons from someone who seems to be a danger to himself or others. DeWine also supports red-flag legislation that would also include due process measures.
Cordray used to hold an A Rating from the National Rifle Association, while DeWine once received an F grade. But this fall, the NRA Political Victory Fund and the Buckeye Firearms Association PAC both endorsed DeWine and his running mate Jon Husted.
Cordray said much has changed since he was last rated by the NRA.
“I’m for moving forward with some common sense gun regulations,” Cordray said. Referring to mass shootings around the country, he added: “I don’t see how you can be oblivious to those facts and not think about what needs to be done to try to address some of this.”
Opioids. Crack down on drug dealers, fund community treatment centers, bolster the foster care system, provide money for local government responding to the crisis and protect Medicaid expansion.
Criminal Justice reform. Shift away from Ohio’s cash-bail system to one that assesses the risk in each case so that people don’t get stuck in jail awaiting their day in court just because they’re too poor to come up with bail money; Unlike DeWine, he supports Issue 1, which would reduce some low-level drug felonies to misdemeanors.
Jobs and economy. Opposes right-to-work, which would make it illegal to mandate union membership; favors putting a bond issue of at least $1.8 billion before Ohio voters to pay for roads, bridges, underground infrastructure, broadband technology and public transit; wants to offer a full-spectrum of paths to jobs, including technical school programs, industry certifications and two-year and four-year degrees; supports gradually moving the state minimum wage to $15 an hour, something he says may require a statewide ballot vote.
Health care. Continue Medicaid expansion, which provides health care coverage to 700,000 low-income Ohioans; focus on preventative and primary care; improve transparency and accountability measures in Ohio Medicaid and for health care consumers.
Marijuana: Favors legalizing recreational marijuana through a ballot initiative.
Education and charter schools. Invest in early childhood education and health care; add mental health services in schools; do away with for-profit charter schools and reinvest that money toward strengthening the classroom in public schools; reduce the number of standardized tests and the number of unfunded mandates; let “teachers do what they do best with our children.”
Family: Married to Peggy Cordray, twin children.
Hometown: Grove City
Running mate: Betty Sutton
Political experience: state representative 1991-92; Ohio solicitor general 1993-94; Franklin County treasurer 2002-07; Ohio treasurer, 2007-09; Ohio attorney general, 2009-2011; Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director 2012-17.
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