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Purple No More? Republicans Reinforce Control Of Ohio's Government

Tony Dejak
Associated Press
Republican Mike DeWine at a Cleveland rally Monday.

Ohio Republicans swept the statewide office races in yesterday’s election, carried by a big victory from Mike DeWine for the governor’s office.

While the Democrats did have some major wins, Republicans said the night belonged to them.

GOP Sweep

“I will be excited to work with the DeWine/Husted administration,” says Frank LaRose, who won his race for Ohio Secretary of State.

LaRose was among the Republicans who, one-by-one, took the stage in downtown Columbus to claim victory in their statewide race. He defeated Democrat Kathleen Clyde by about 4 percent, but he says the next Secretary of State brings a unique challenge.

“This is the one office that safeguards two things that are really fundamental to our way of life,” he says. “Free markets and fair elections are among the most precious things we have.”

LaRose was part of a five-office sweep of the statewide executive races. State Rep. Robert Sprague won the treasurer’s race over Democrat Rob Richardson, while fellow state Rep. Keith Faber will be Ohio’s next auditor after fending off Democrat Zack Space.

Ohio’s current auditor, Dave Yost, who won the attorney general’s race, made what became a repeated statement of the night.

“Tonight belongs to the Republicans,” Yost said.

It all started at the top of the ticket with DeWine winning the governor’s race against his Democratic opponent Rich Cordray. Since Donald Trump won the presidential race in 2016, there was a lot of talk about a possible momentum shift in the Democrats’ favor.

And even the day before the election, several polls and analysts were projecting a narrow win for Cordray.

But as DeWine’s running mate, newly-elected lieutenant governor Jon Husted, put it: “I guess Ohio is still a Republican state.”

As DeWine took to the stage, he delivered a message of unity, commending Cordray’s character, and calling on Republicans and Democrats to work together.

“Our challenges are not solvable just by one party, they’re not solvable by one person, they’re solvable by all of us pulling together, and working together and that is my commitment to each and every one of you,” DeWine says.

While DeWine calls for unity, the results of the election clearly show that Republicans have a stronghold in Ohio. Mark Weaver, a Republican strategist, says despite some statewide victories, including U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s re-election bid, it seems to be even harder than before to win as a Democrat in Ohio.

“Ohio is becoming redder all the time,” Weaver says. “We used to be the swing state, the purple state, the bellwether state. We saw in 2016 that the presidential race wasn’t close here, and tonight it tells us that Ohio is firmly red.”

Democrats Dealt Tough Loss

The blue wave that had been talked about nationally so much was barely a ripple in Ohio. While Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown was re-elected, it was a tough loss for Cordray, who had maintained a tie with DeWine throughout the campaign.

“I believe that successful politics is not always defined by the outcome of an election. The reason we do this is because we want to improve people’s lives,” Cordray said. “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.”

Cordray pointed to the conversation about health care in particular, saying that there’s now agreement that Ohioans with pre-existing conditions should be protected. 

In his concession speech, Cordray also called for unity.

“Tensions ran high during this campaign at times," Cordray says. "But it was never personal for me. Mike has always been a dedicated public servant and I hope he will be a governor who looks out for all Ohioans as much as for the Ohioans who voted for me as for the Ohioans who voted for him.”

All of the Democrats who ran for top statewide offices lost to their Republican counterparts. Democrats did pick up five seats in the Ohio House, but also lost one there and one in the Senate. 

One bright spot for the Democrats: They gained two seats on the Ohio Supreme Court, including the one held by Republican Justice Mary DeGenaro, who’d been replaced to fill Democrat Bill O’Neill’s place on the bench earlier this year. With the election of Melody Stewart and Michael Donnelly, Democrats will hold two of the court’s seven seats, up from zero.

Still, if this election was a referendum on President Trump, most voters landed on his side and decided to make Ohio red again.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.
Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.