Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine enters primary day favorite to defeat Trump-aligned GOP challengers

DeWine, who is seeking a second term, has been a staple of Republican Party politics in his state for nearly four decades, an establishment conservative figure whose long political career includes representing Ohio in the House and in the United States Senate, as well as the office of President of the State. Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor.

That DeWine holds such a lead in the polls underscores the unique political dynamics that govern — and divide — federal and state elections, with the latter proving less hospitable to Trump-aligned challengers and right-wing firebrands.

One factor likely helping DeWine: that Trump himself, despite hinting in the past that he was not a fan of the incumbent governor, avoided the primary. In the end, voters who might otherwise have coalesced behind an anointed candidate split in different directions.

“There might have been a different dynamic if there had been only one opponent and that opponent had been able to gain Trump’s approval. But the fact that it was split, I think probably, in some way influenced what Trump was going to do,” Paul Beck, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, told The News. “One would imagine that in a perfect Trumpian world, he would have wanted to endorse DeWine’s opponent. But then he looks at the polls and he says, you know, if I were to endorse somebody, it’s not going to pull them over the top. »

Still, DeWine faced a campaign of additional testing after the backlash from his initial Covid-19 response, when he angered some Republican base members with aggressive restrictions to blunt the virus for the first few days. of the pandemic. But many of those policies were quickly reversed, and DeWine’s chief health officer, Dr. Amy Acton, who faced heavy criticism from Republicans, quit her job in June 2020.

DeWine’s popularity with Ohio’s business community, a long history of social conservatism, strong fundraising and polling, and energy focused on the hotly contested GOP Senate primary have dulled any concerted movement on the right to punish the governor for what conservative critics describe as overreaching pandemic policy.

Blystone, a first-time candidate notable for his silver and white beard and signature cowboy hat, criticized DeWine for not going far enough on issues like abortion — he’s for a total ban — and staked his run on familiar right-wing attacks on what he described as government overreach. But in a recent interview with WSYX in Columbus, near his home, Blystone said there was at least one issue he would support government intervention on: a recently introduced state bill that would ban athletes transgender people from playing school sports, hormone blockers and gender-affirming care for minors.

“We’ve gotten to the point where you know we, we teach kids in school that they can actually choose their gender identity,” Blystone said. “And we have to, that’s what we have to teach our children and I think the government is going to have to get involved. »

Renacci, a staunch conservative, is quite a polite candidate, but has not had more success in the polls. He entered the primary in June 2021 with wholesale criticism of the DeWine administration’s policies, from taxes to refugee policy. But some of his strongest attacks have focused on the governor’s handling of Covid. In an August 2021 op-ed, Renacci accused DeWine of overreacting, leading “with fear” and imposing “draconian” measures in his initial response.

“DeWine closed Ohio too quickly and refused to reopen soon enough. He reacted more in tune with Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo of New York or Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan,” Renacci wrote, “instead of Republican governors like Ron DeSantis of Florida and Kristi Noem of South Dakota. »

But the message doesn’t seem to have gotten through — to primary voters or to Trump himself.

Renacci failed to gain significant traction. A recent Fox poll showed DeWine with 43% to Rennaci’s 24%. Blystone was a close third with 19%. In the final days of the campaign, Renacci told The New York Times that he even stopped trying to raise funds. DeWine, meanwhile, has significant outside support.

Although most observers are skeptical that Renacci would have passed DeWine even with Trump’s backing, his standing in the race suffered for lack. Still, he made some inroads into Trump circles. He brought in a consultant, former senior adviser to the former president Brad Parscale, with whom he appeared on a Facebook Live last fall and posted an ad titled “Trump Support Timeline,” which noted that Renacci had endorsed Trump’s first presidential election in March 2016, “213 days before Mike DeWine.” »

DeWine was less embarrassed to meet the former president’s gaze.

In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, DeWine, in an interview on The News less than 10 days after Joe Biden defeated Trump, became one of the first prominent Republicans to state the obvious and call out Biden the “president-elect”.

“I am worried about this virus. I don’t look at the merits of the case. It looks like Joe Biden is the next president of the United States,” DeWine said.

Trump, days later, hit back at DeWine, suggesting he would support a challenge to the incumbent leader from Ohio.

“Who will be running for governor of the great state of Ohio? Trump tweeted. “Will be hotly contested! »

Ultimately, however, Ohio’s heat mostly emanated from the chaotic Senate primary, with Trump effectively skipping the gubernatorial contest.

With backing from the Republican Governors Association and state party leaders, DeWine — who has never debated his opponents, including former state Rep. Ron Hood — has focused his messages on the electorate at large. A recent ad, now pinned to the top of DeWine’s Twitter account, begins with the words: “Joe Biden’s inflation is crushing Americans.”

“Governor DeWine delivered for Ohio when it mattered most and people trust his leadership,” RGA spokesman Jesse Hunt said. “A strong local economy that provides well-paying jobs has been a core part of his agenda, and that goal is a key reason he will be elected for another four years. »

DeWine recently benefited from a decision earlier this year by technology company Intel to invest $20 billion in the state to produce semiconductor chips, a boost for Ohio manufacturers and its job market — and an opportunity for DeWine to both chop its business and position itself as a worthy opponent of Chinese industry, a winning question with Republican voters.

“Intel’s announcement today is a signal to China and the rest of the world that from now on, our essential manufactured products in this country will be made in the United States of America,” DeWine said. at the January event announcing the company’s massive investment. .

Renacci, in an online meeting with DeWine hosted by The Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com editorial board, criticized the deal as a document to Intel, citing state incentives included in the deal. But that back-and-forth, the closest thing to a debate the contest has seen, probably didn’t move the needle.

“It’s interesting that Mr. Renacci didn’t quote one thing he’s going to do,” DeWine said during their exchange, “he’s just criticizing what we’ve done. »

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