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Gov. DeWine May Be Less Outspoken, More Conservative Than Kasich

Tony Dejak
Associated Press

The inauguration of Ohio Gov.-elect Mike DeWine will mark a shift away from volatility in a state buffeted in recent years between the shifting ambitions of an outspoken governor and the frequent outbursts of an unpredictable president.

Even before taking office Monday, DeWine, who is currently the attorney general, has moved through the transition process with a methodical calm. He's laid out his slate of diverse, bipartisan Cabinet picks at amply announced news conferences and politely declined to answer questions that might step on outgoing Gov. John Kasich's toes.

The theme of DeWine's inaugural — "Faith, Family and Friends" — feels like a dose of comfort food after Kasich's bold "New Day" and two years of President Donald Trump.

A return to predictability may have been in many voters' minds this fall as they delivered DeWine a comfortable 3.7-point victory over his Democratic challenger, Obama-era consumer protection chief Richard Cordray.

"Mike DeWine has a long track record and is known by a lot of Ohioans," said election analyst Mike Dawson. "So, they knew what they were getting with Mike DeWine."

DeWine, a Catholic family man who lives on an historic farm in rural Cedarville, will be Ohio's oldest governor at 72. His governorship will cap a political career that began as an assistant prosecutor in rural Ohio in the 1970s and saw election to seats in the Ohio House, U.S. House, the state lieutenant governor's office and the U.S. Senate.

His style isn't the only thing that will differentiate DeWine from Kasich. He's also expressed willingness to embrace some more conservative policies. That includes moving in his final days as attorney general to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Ohio's congressional districts and saying he's willing to sign a heartbeat abortion ban that would be one of the most stringent restrictions on the procedure in the country.

But whether supporting an abortion bill that Kasich twice vetoed means DeWine's inauguration will mark a shift to the right for Ohio is unclear.

Matt Borges, former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said the idea of banning abortions at the first detectable heartbeat has become less extreme as society and science change. Just three weeks ago, the anti-abortion Ohio Right to Life, which got Kasich to sign 21 of its bills over eight years, adjusted its longstanding neutral stance on the heartbeat bill to support.

"Things are a lot different than they were in 1973 (when Roe v. Wade legalize abortion as legalized). They're different than they were in 2003," Borges said. "The idea of who can be kept alive, the stigma that was attached to unwanted pregnancies, perception has changed, things are different."

Kasich enjoyed a popularity driven by Ohioans of both parties, having won over many Democrats with his heartbeat vetoes, advocacy for Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law and his work on bipartisan policy solutions that included a package of "common sense" gun restrictions.

DeWine campaigned with both Kasich and the man he often criticizes, Trump, to win the election. He also has a reputation for "governing from the middle," Dawson said.

That has made it difficult for political observers to know what Ohio voters had in mind when they pulled the lever for Republicans this fall. Democratic strategist Aaron Pickrell said he doesn't believe it was policies that are drastically more conservative.

"If Kasich is sort of more of the face of the Republican Party and DeWine's not a super polarizing figure, I think, to a certain degree, it was more a status quo kind of election here and not a tack to the right," he said.

Justin Barasky, who managed Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown's successful re-election campaign in November, said he believes DeWine will be both a more predictable and a more conservative leader for the state.

"Mike DeWine is someone Ohioans know very well," Barasky said. "He's not going to call police officers an idiot, he's not going to go from being this hard-core right-winger to every Democrat's favorite Republican like Kasich, he's not going to fire off all-caps tweets in the middle of the night like the President of the United States does. He's going to do a lot of terrible stuff, but he's not going to surprise a lot of people."