After an ugly runup that brought intraparty fights into the open, Ohio’s voters mostly stuck with establishment candidates in Ohio’s primary election on May 7. Attorney General Mike DeWine bested Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor by almost 20 percentage points in a Republican gubernatorial primary in which both candidates spent millions on attack ads. DeWine now faces Democratic winner, Richard Cordray. Cordray, the former chief of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau beat former Congressman Dennis Kucinich by 40 percentage points in a race that at times worried establishment Democrats as Kucinich’s populist politics were thought to have new currency in the Trump era.
Cordray and DeWine will face each other for the second time in a statewide race. Cordray lost his attorney general seat to DeWine in 2010. This year’s governor’s race is expected be the most expensive governor’s race in Ohio history and will likely bring significant national attention.
The May 7 primary also demonstrated that Ohioans overwhelmingly favor more fairly drawn congressional districts. Issue 1, which creates a bipartisan process for drawing districts, was approved by nearly 75 percent of Ohio primary voters. Partisan gerrymandering has long been a staple in Ohio politics where there are few competitive congressional districts and the GOP currently has a 12 to four seat advantage over Democrats despite Ohio’s long history as a purple state.
In another highly anticipated race, State Senator Troy Balderson won a wide-open GOP primary to replace longtime Congressman Pat Tiberi in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District. Balderson fended off eight other candidates to win the nomination in an election with national implications. The heavily suburban district is a usual Republican stronghold, but Democrats hope dissatisfaction with President Trump among educated suburban voters will boost their chances of winning. Franklin County Recorder Danny O’Connor won the Democratic nomination and will run against Balderson in the special election in August to finish Tiberi’s term and the general election in November.
In the GOP primary for U.S. Senate, Trump-backed Congressman Jim Renacci beat Cleveland businessman Mike Gibbons. Renacci will now attempt to unseat sitting Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown.
Former Ohio State football star and NFLer Anthony Gonzalez won the Republican primary in Ohio’s 16th Congressional District. The race pitted Gonzales against staunch Trump supporter, State Representative Christina Hagan. Gonzalez is set to face Democrat Susan Morgan Palmer in the general election this November to replace Jim Renacci in Congress.
Perhaps the most surprising development from the primary might not have been obvious to voters across the state, but it is nonetheless meaningful to the future of Statehouse politics. Nearly a dozen allies of State Representative Larry Householder beat candidates in primaries backed by Householder’s rival, Representative Ryan Smith. Both Smith and Householder are vying to be Ohio House Speaker in the 133rd General Assembly and were looking to increase their chances of being elected speaker by backing candidates that will support them in next year’s speaker’s race. While the May 7 victories do not guarantee Householder will be the next speaker, they come as a surprise to many and are a legitimate obstacle for Representative Smith’s bid for the speakership next winter.
Other Statehouse races of note include two Democratic primaries for open Senate seats. In the 11th Senate District, which includes Toledo and much of Lucas County, Democratic State Representative Teresa Fedor beat her colleague Representative Mike Ashford. In the Cleveland area, Representative Nikki Antonio beat Representative Martin Sweeney to win the Democratic nomination in the 23rd Senate District. In the House, embattled State Representative Wes Retherford lost his primary election to Sara Carruthers. Retherford is the only candidate to lose a primary for a seat he currently holds.
With the primary election over, the parties and candidates now take aim at each other in what will be as contested a midterm as any in recent memory. Regardless of the outcome, Impact Ohio will be providing a full recap and analysis at our Post Election Conference on Thursday, November 8, 2018.