Ohio politics is shifting to the right.
As a political scientist at Ohio State University, that’s my takeaway from seeing Mike DeWine and Richard Cordray win overwhelming victories to secure their parties’ nominations in the primary for governor on May 8.
It could be the sign of things to come in Ohio.
Kasich’s attempts to make the national Republican Party more moderate during a lackluster presidential run in 2016 may have endeared him to independent voters, but it’s clearly cost him support on the right in his home state. Republican candidates Attorney General DeWine and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor spent most of the race fighting over who could be the most conservative. At one point, a DeWine allied SuperPAC targeted Taylor with a mailer suggesting Ohio “can’t afford a third Kasich term” – a stunning attack on a leader of his own party. Both candidates promised to rescind Kasich’s acceptance of the Medicaid expansion.
In spite of her attempts at repudiating him, Taylor’s association with Kasich, who endorsed her, led Republican primary voters to DeWine, who was perceived as a purer conservative. DeWine cruised to victory with a 19-point margin.
By selecting Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general and former director of the embattled Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Democratic voters made a moderate choice. Cordray is a mainstream Democrat who has pushed moderately progressive proposals while emphasizing his ties to former President Barack Obama and the need to fight the state’s opioid crisis.
Cordray will likely have more appeal to moderate voters than second-place finisher Dennis Kucinich, whose more radical platform rested on creating a statewide single-payer healthcare system. Though the former mayor of Cleveland has been a player in Ohio politics for decades, Kucinich may simply be too liberal for a statewide election in 2018 Ohio. Cordray won over 60 percent of the vote.
Both parties made choices that may reflect the future of Ohio politics. While it has long been considered a swing state, Ohio’s demographics have been trending rightward. President Trump won the state by nine points in 2016. Democrats may hope that result is an aberration, but Ohio’s primary results suggest the state could see more centrist Democrats running against hard-line conservative Republicans.