Democrat Richard Cordray won the Democratic nomination for governor of Ohio Tuesday night, setting up a November race against Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Cordray, the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, bested former Rep. Dennis Kucinich and several other contenders in the Democratic primary. Cordray had 64 percent of the vote to Kucinich’s 23 percent when the Associated Press called the race early, with just over 2 percent of precincts reporting.
Cordray had been the Democratic frontrunner since leaving the CFPB to run for office again in Ohio, where he had previously served as attorney general, treasurer and a state legislator. But Kucinich, who also entered the race late, proved to be a tenacious challenger, hitting Cordray from the left for his past position on guns and highlighting his own longtime support for single-payer health care. People and entities aligned with Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016 — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the nonprofit group Our Revolution, actor Danny Glover — supported Kucinich’s bid.
But Cordray, a sometimes prickly former “Jeopardy!” champion who often came off as reserved compared to the hyper-energetic Kucinich, had his own populist credentials to tout. Cordray ran as a pocketbook watchdog at the CFPB, sprinkling praise from former President Barack Obama into his ads and getting fundraising emails and campaign appearances from Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Cordray and DeWine must now turn do a difficult general election battle — a rematch of their 2010 attorney general contest, which DeWine won. DeWine got the GOP nomination over Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, with 65 percent of the vote when the Associated Press called the race at about 8:30 Eastern time.
Taylor spent over $2.8 million on TV, according to Advertising Analytics, and won endorsements from Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul as well as outgoing Gov. John Kasich. But DeWine’s bigger spending and long career — he was previously a U.S. senator from the state — won out.
Now, both Democrats and Republicans are bracing for a slog of a general election.
“There’s no magic bullet for winning the state of Ohio. It’s hard work. It’s reaching people. It’s connecting with people on issues that are important to them,” said Democratic state Rep. David Leland, a Cordray backer. “That’s a hard tough slog that either candidate is going to have to do if they’re going to be successful.”
Even in a state that President Donald Trump won by about 8 points, where the outgoing governor is a Republican and the GOP controls both chambers of the state legislature, some Republicans are warning their party not to get complacent in the long-time swing state, especially with the political environment favoring Democrats.
“This is the matchup that everyone thought would occur. The favorites won,” said Ohio Republican strategist Mike Hartley, adding: “I think any Republican their election has to run as hard as possible because it’s one of those election years where the environment is favorable to Democrats. But the one person who I can do that is Mike DeWine.”
Leland said the candidates’ focus must now shift to the ever-shrinking number of swing voters available.
“That number gets smaller and smaller every year but we still need to get every one of them,” Leland said. And we need to get dissatisfied Republicans who feel like there needs to be a check on what’s going on in Washington D.C.”