Mike DeWine wins the governor’s race, continuing GOP dominance in statewide elections

What originally looked like a tight race quickly broke for DeWine and the Republicans.

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Republican Mike DeWine will be the next governor of Ohio, winning a rematch against his 2010 electoral foe, Democrat Richard Cordray.

Multiple news outlets called the race for DeWine around 11 p.m. and Cordray conceded to DeWine shortly after. Unofficial results from the secretary of state’s office showed DeWine with a nearly 5-percentage point lead as of 11:30 p.m.

DeWine, 71, the current Ohio attorney general, adds another political position to his more than four decades in Ohio politics and signals good times ahead for Republicans, who continue to hold all three branches of state government in Columbus. Democrats were hoping to flip the state with Cordray, the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but couldn’t capitalize on a friendly electoral environment.

“I want to thank the people of Ohio for the trust and confidence they’ve placed in us tonight,” DeWine said in a statement to cleveland.com. “Tonight’s victory is about moving Ohio forward. We are energized by the support you’ve show us, and we will not let you down!”

The victory did not come easily in a race that remained close throughout most of the election.

DeWine was considered the Republican front-runner from the onset of the race, but didn’t become the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination until convincing then-primary opponent Jon Husted, Ohio’s secretary of state, to join his ticket. The Republican Party hoped the super-ticket would clear the primary field and be too much for the Democrats to overcome. 

DeWine staved off a challenge from his right in the primary from Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, and had to moderate his rhetoric on health care to woo voters against Cordray in the general election.

He also had to tap into his personal wealth, dumping $4 million of his own money into the race. DeWine’s fundraising advantage allowed him to launch a media assault, with commercials accusing Cordray of failing rape victims, wanting to leave drug dealers on the street and being culpable for the 2008 financial crisis.

In the end, it worked. Democrats hoped Cordray could be the standard-bearer for the Democratic ticket, reversing their decades of bad fortune in gubernatorial elections, carrying others into down ballot offices and beginning the process of rebuilding a bench that’s been obliterated since 2010. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who won his re-election campaign handily Tuesday, is the only statewide Democrat to achieve success statewide since 2008.

“I believe the success of politics is not always defined by the outcome of an election,” Cordray told the crowd at his concession speech. “The reason we do this is because we want to improve people’s lives, and I believe the work that all of you have done throughout this campaign has changed the conversation in ways that will dramatically improve the lives of people all over Ohio.”

Polling prior to Tuesday indicated it might be a tight race, with the numbers breaking slightly for Cordray in the final days. Political handicappers also tilted their expectations in Cordray’s direction.

Cordray started strong with a significant lead in early voting.

But the Republican turnout machine in Ohio was too much to overcome. DeWine cut through Cordray’s lead quickly, performing better than Republicans usually do in blue-collar places like Mahoning County. He and the rest of the Republican slate – which swept the statewide constitutional races – also had the benefit of a booming economy and voters generally saying they were happy with the direction the state was headed.

His victory suggests the Democratic coalition in the state is smaller than ever, essentially confined to the urban areas. As of 11:30 p.m., Cordray was on pace to win only nine counties.

Republicans were able to keep the suburban counties in tow after fearing they may break for Democrats given voters’ general disdain for Republican President Donald Trump in those areas.

Republicans can now claim ownership of the governor’s office for most of the last three decades. DeWine has made it clear that he’ll continue the Republican agenda in the state.

What that means isn’t totally certain, though DeWine will likely follow the course set by Gov. John Kasich and Republicans in Columbus for the last eight years.

During the campaign, DeWine promised a greater focus on vocational education and technical training to fill skilled-trade jobs. Republicans in Columbus will also likely look to slash regulations, another promise of DeWine’s from the campaign.

He also touted a 12-point opioid plan, which he said he would combat the state’s ongoing drug addiction scourge.

And Ohioans can likely expect a push for some of the more socially conservative bills that Kasich vetoed during his time in office. At the top of the list is the “heartbeat bill,” which would outlaw abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected – around roughly six weeks into pregnancy. DeWine said during the campaign he would sign the bill if it reached his desk. Critics argue it would effectively ban abortion in the state since many women don’t know they are pregnant at six weeks.

The big question is what will happen with health care in the state, particularly the Medicaid expansion. DeWine both attacked and praised Kasich’s signature legislation from his time in office, calling it unsustainable but vowing to keep it and add work requirements.

Legislative Republicans tried to freeze enrollment to the program in 2017, which provides health care to 700,000 Ohioans who might otherwise lose health care coverage. DeWine did not say during the campaign whether he would have signed that bill, which Kasich vetoed.

But Ohioans obviously trusted DeWine enough, even as Democrats attacked him nonstop over health care.

DeWine’s win also provides a comfort zone for Republicans heading into the 2020 election.

Democrats gained ground by winning other governor’s races in the Midwest – including Kansas, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois – but Ohio proved itself reliably red and in the presidents’ corner. Trump added a last-minute rally in Ohio and was successful at getting his man into office.

Kasich will leave office in January and his future standing in the Ohio GOP isn’t totally known. The party has drifted away from Kasich, embracing his political rival Trump. While Kasich supported DeWine, Kasich was mostly a non-factor in the race. DeWine kept him to the sidelines for much of the race, opting instead for the support of Trump.

With that strategy proving successful, Ohio may be tired of Kasich, who is widely thought to be considering a 2020 challenge to Trump, though he would have a difficult time without support from his home state.

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