Ohio voters don’t pick a new governor for another 34 months but three key Republican candidates are already jockeying for position, lining up support and prepping their profiles.
The challenge for Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges will be to manage high-profile, experienced politicos who seem to all want to run for top executive: Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.
On the other side, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper needs to find an experienced candidate who can raise millions of dollars and gain the attention of voters. Pepper has just two current statewide officeholders — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill.
Pepper said unlike the Republicans, Democrats aren’t engaging in early maneuvering.
“I do think we will have a very good next generation of candidates in '18 but my hope is that all of them spend their time on actually helping us to win in '16 and also continue to do a good job in jobs they were elected to,” Pepper said.
Borges said he prefers his scenario to Pepper’s.
“If you want to classify it as a problem, it’s a good problem to have. So we have three qualified candidates while the Democrats have none,” Borges said.
He added that 2018 is a long way off and plenty can change between now and then. “I really don’t know how anyone would say definitely what they’re doing three years from now. It’s just not possible. There is still time for this to develop and to take shape,” Borges said.
Democrats may turn to former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray, who has long wanted to be governor, said Ohio State University political scientist Paul Beck. Cordray now heads the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the Obama administration. Other names that are mentioned by Democrats: Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, and former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Barberton.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is now running for the GOP nomination for president, cannot run for re-election in 2018 because of term limits.
It is an open-secret that Taylor, DeWine and Husted are eyeing, though none have declared their candidacy.
DeWine would win if election held today
In October, The Tarrance Group, a Washington, D.C.-based Republican polling firm, released data showing DeWine would trounce Husted and Taylor. The Tarrance Group has worked for DeWine, Taylor and other high profile Ohio Republicans.
The Tarrance Group found that if the primary for governor were held now, 57 percent of likely Republican voters would back DeWine and 22 percent would support Husted with another 21 percent undecided. In a three way race, DeWine would capture 45 percent, Husted 13 percent and Taylor 13 percent, the poll found.
Another sign that DeWine is serious about running for governor is that his team has already been talking with two young political consultants — Troy Judy and Chad Hawley of The Batchelder Co. Hawley supplied the Dayton Daily News a copy of the poll.
After spending 21 of the last 25 years in statewide public office, DeWine 94 percent of Republican primary voters know him, the poll found. DeWine is particularly skilled at working the media — he travels the state extensively and readily gives media interviews on everything from mass shootings to police training to heroin addiction to consumer rip offs. In his 2014 re-election bid, DeWine grabbed 61.5 percent of the vote. And to top it off, the DeWine name will be on the statewide ballot in 2016 as well: the attorney general’s son, First District Court of Appeals Judge Pat DeWine, is running for Ohio Supreme Court.
“DeWine, having been a senator and of course having been attorney general since then, is somebody who Ohio voters are just going to recognize more than (Husted or Taylor.) And you think of an attorney general as someone who would be good on terrorist kinds of activities so that may help him as well,” Beck said.
Taylor could enjoy the power of incumbency as governor beginning in January 2017 but that hinges on some big conditions: Kasich make it onto the GOP ticket and they win the White House in 2016, or Kasich joins a Republican administration.
More immediately, Taylor has been battling scandal and bad press.
The Dayton Daily News published a story about Taylor staring in $170,000 worth of TV ads funded by a federal grant aimed to encourage older Ohioans to sign up for Medicare. Democrats say she’s using public money to boost her political profile.
The Ohio Inspector General issued a report criticizing Taylor for not properly supervising her chief of staff and her administrative aide. Taylor had given them extended schedule flexibility but the two abused it. The Columbus Dispatch followed up with a story about how the chief of staff, Laura Johnson, may have done political work on state time — something the IG report glossed over. Ohio Inspector General Randy Meyer worked for Taylor in the state auditor’s office.
“That could hurt her and certainly it will be used against her in the campaign,” Beck predicted.
This fall, Taylor formed Onward Ohio, a non-profit that uses disclosed money to support Taylor’s expenses and travel not related to her job.
Meanwhile, a dark-money group based in Washington, D.C. is backing Husted with a “five-figure” digital ad buy to praise Husted’s pro-business record. The State Government Leadership Foundation is a non-profit 501c(4) entity that can use unlimited, undisclosed donations. In previous years, it reported $1.3 million to $2.6 million in donations.
The race is still nearly three years away but these days there is no off season for politicians.
“That’s been the story of the modern campaign. Elected officeholders who want to retain their office are running all the time and raising money all the time,” Beck said.
Three Republicans likely to run for governor in 2018
Family: Married to Fran; eight children; 20 grandchildren
Education: Miami University, bachelor’s degree; Ohio Northern University, law degree.
Experience: Greene County prosecutor 1977-81, Ohio State Senator 1981-82, U.S. House 1983-91, Lieutenant Governor 1991-94, U.S. Senator 1995-2007, Ohio Attorney General 2011-current.
Hometown: Upper Arlington
Family: Married to Tina; three children
Education: University of Dayton, bachelor and master’s degrees.
Experience: Ohio House 2001-2008, Ohio Senate 2009-2010, Ohio Secretary of State 2011-current.
Family: Married to Don; two children
Education: University of Akron, bachelor and master’s degrees.
Experience: Ohio House 2002-2006, Ohio Auditor 2007-2010, Lieutenant Governor 2011-current