Ohio governor rivals hedging bets on Trump

Julie Carr Smyth
Associated Press

Columbus, Ohio – Locked in a tight race for governor in the perennial swing state of Ohio, Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray are using the final stretch to hedge their bets on Donald Trump.

Even as Vice President Mike Pence plans a campaign stop for DeWine on Wednesday, the state attorney general has suddenly this week embraced the support of Republican Gov. John Kasich, one of the GOP’s harshest Trump detractors.

“Mike DeWine promised me that he will protect those with pre-existing conditions,” Kasich, a governor whose questioning of Trump has boosted his popularity among Democrats, tells viewers in an ad.

Kasich concludes, “Because this isn’t about politics. It’s about people.”

Cordray, the Obama-era consumer protection chief, has continually hit DeWine for opposing insurance protections for those with pre-existing conditions, a top issue this year among voters. He points to DeWine’s decision to join Republicans’ lawsuit seeking to do away with the federal Affordable Care Act that includes such protections.

Yet, in his final ad, Cordray, 59, also signals his willingness to work with the unconventional Republican president who won Ohio by 8 percentage points two years ago.

“When President Trump does something that helps Ohio, I’ll work with him,” Cordray tells viewers. “But when he does something that hurts Ohio, I’ll stand up to him. But Mike DeWine backs Donald Trump every single time, no matter what.”

That’s not in line with statements by DeWine, 71, a former lieutenant governor and U.S. senator, who’s pledged case-by-case decisions on Trump and eschewed a couple joint appearances. DeWine’s campaign couldn’t yet say Tuesday whether he’d be appearing with Trump at a rally in Cleveland Monday.

All the positioning shows how walking the line on Trump is viewed as critical to victory in the perennial swing state. Ohio went for Trump in the 2016 general election, Kasich in the Republican presidential primary and Democrat Barack Obama and Biden in 2008 and 2012.

Polls have had DeWine and Cordray neck-and-neck for months and spending that’s already topped $21 million is setting records, on top of what’s being poured into the state by outside groups. Ahead of last week’s campaign finance filing deadline, DeWine loaned his campaign $3 million.

“We’re in this home stretch and each of the candidates is doing what they think at the very end might give them a critical margin,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “Obviously, Gov. Kasich’s presence is likely to help Attorney General DeWine, just as the appearance by former President Obama for Cordray is his effort to use his party’s biggest guns.”

Obama, who appointed Cordray the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, stumped for him and other Ohio Democrats in Cleveland last month.

Former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden campaigned for Cordray on Tuesday, rallying voters with a message of unity at Ohio State University and in blue-collar Youngstown, where Trump did unusually well for a Republican.

Biden, who has worked with the term-limited Kasich in efforts to promote national bipartisanship, urged people to treat one another with decency. He drew applause when he said, “Words matter” – a veiled reference to Trump’s verbal jabs at Democrats, the media and others.

A final ad by DeWine also appeared aimed at calming frazzled voters, as the politically divided state grows weary of national divisiveness and strife.

“All my life, I’ve fought for Ohio families,” DeWine says reassuringly, against the backdrop of a bucolic Ohio farm. It was his first direct-to-camera ad of the campaign.

Both DeWine and Cordray entered the hotly contested race last year as political moderates.

Cordray, a former state attorney general and treasurer, took heat in the primary against liberal former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich for winning the NRA’s backing in past elections. DeWine was blasted by his primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, for supporting Kasich on Medicaid expansion, a position he’s been forced to clarify several times.

Kasich appears with DeWine Friday at a get-out-the-vote rally.