TOLEDO, Ohio – Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s performance in the state’s primary Tuesday will provide a gauge of just how far to the right his party has shifted under the influence of former President Donald Trump.
DeWine, a veteran politician who easily won the state’s top office four years ago, is facing a revolt in some corners of Ohio after enraging the GOP faithful with aggressive stay-at-home mandates, business shutdowns and curfews during the pandemic.
Despite calling himself “the most pro-life governor in Ohio history,” he has lost the backing of some anti-abortion and conservative groups. Still, he remains favored to win the party’s nomination as long as his three far-right challengers, including former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, end up splitting the anti-DeWine vote.
Ohio Democrats face a bigger problem when picking their nominee for governor — they haven’t won a statewide nonjudicial race in nearly 16 years.
Their choice comes down to former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley or former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, who would be the first woman in the state’s history to receive a major party’s backing for governor.
Whaley and Cranley, who have a friendship that goes back years, are aligned on many issues. Both have promised to protect abortion rights, promote social justice and fight political corruption.
Cranley wants to legalize marijuana and use the money generated to rebuild the state’s economy. Whaley advocates for expanding access to child care and adding universal preschool.
Whoever emerges will be an underdog against the winner of the four-way Republican primary. Ohio has elected just one Democrat to be governor in the past three decades. Since then, the state has shifted to the right, especially in recent years under Trump’s hold.
The former president did not choose sides in the Republican contest for governor, but his presence remains. Renacci, who had hoped to win his endorsement, has painted DeWine as a moderate who’s out of step with Trump and governed “like a blue-state liberal.”
DeWine has been careful to say he’s still a supporter of Trump’s but without fully embracing him. He also dismissed Trump’s false claims of a stolen 2020 election.
Conservatives upset with the governor complain that his policies and actions during the pandemic ran counter to what they were hearing from Trump and GOP governors such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis and South Dakota’s Kristi Noem.
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