Donald Trump energizes Ohio’s Republican grassroots. And for at least two generations Ohioans have known the name Mike DeWine and, roughly, what DeWine stands for. Those two facts – in a state that prefers any changes to be gradual – are why voters made DeWine Ohio’s next governor.
As barstool analysts are first to say, elections have consequences. A winning candidate for governor of Ohio can pull the rest of his or her ticket over the finish line, too.
And Mike DeWine did. So, as is also the case now, Republicans will run every statewide elected executive office – attorney general, auditor, secretary of state, treasurer, the whole shooting match.
Democrats did elect two exceptionally capable candidates to the Ohio Supreme Court, Judges Michael Donnelly and Melody Stewart, both from the Cleveland area. Moreover, Stewart is the first African-American Democrat elected to statewide office in Ohio.
And Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, won a third term by warding off U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, a Wadsworth Republican. But haphazard as Renacci’s campaign was, Brown’s margin was 275,000 votes, not the 1 million-vote-plus margins racked up by, for instance, Sen. Rob Portman, a suburban Cincinnati Republican, in 2016 against Democratic challenger Ted Strickland.
Still, given how badly the rest of Ohio’s 2018 Democratic ticket did in a state that Democratic presidential nominees have to carry, Sherrod Brown may be a White House prospect.
Meanwhile, though, Rep. Troy Balderson, a Zanesville Republican whose district includes a swath of suburban Columbus, won reelection despite a strong challenge by Franklin County’s recorder, Democrat Daniel J. (Danny) O’Connor Jr.
The ripple effects of Mike DeWine’s win are statewide. Come January, for the first time in almost 60 years a Republican will speak for the Youngstown area in the state Senate, holding the seat of the late Harry Meshel, a Democratic who was the living definition of New Deal liberal.
Part of the reason that DeWine won is that, in contrast to what Ohioans knew about Mike DeWine, they knew much less about the Democratic candidate for governor, Richard Cordray, at least at the starting line of the Cordray-DeWine race.
True, Cordray had been an Ohio House member, state treasurer, state attorney general and director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Trouble is, the average Ohio voter might be able to name the last five Ohio State football coaches. But Ohio’s last few state treasurers, and attorneys general? Good luck with that.
Moreover, gifted though Cordray is, he is an awkward campaigner. And some of the Cordray campaign’s decisions were flat-out puzzling, such as having Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, campaign for Cordray in Athens. Cordray was virtually certain to carry Athens County anyway, and he did. True Believers don’t need sermons. They already know they’re right. Instead. If an Ohio Democrat is seeking converts, the place to look is suburbia.
One argument batted around after Ohio elections, including last week’s, is that Ohio is “turning red,” or “less blue,” or something. Actually, Ohio is reverting to type. In the last 60 years, leaving aside Gov. Richard F. Celeste (1983-91), Ohioans have elected three Democratic governors – Michael V. DiSalle, John J. Gilligan and Strickland. Each was a one-termer.
That trio won because Republicans had messed up, due to a political blunder or a scandal. So voters elected one-term Democrats to rebuke the GOP and unclog the Statehouse plumbing. Once he pours the Drano, a one-term Democrat has served his purpose. Then the GOP, Ohio’s Party of Political Entitlement, reclaims its history as manager of the state’s government – and of Ohio’s checkbook.