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Analysis: Could Mike DeWine's Re-election Bid Be Doomed By His Fellow Republicans?

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine speaks during a public inauguration ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Columbus.
Ty Greenlees
AP/Dayton Daily News, Pool
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine speaks during a public inauguration ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse, Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Columbus.

Talk about being between a rock and a hard place.

That's where Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine finds himself as he looks ahead to a 2022 run for re-election.

A lot of people who watch Ohio politics closely – me included – think DeWine, a prodigious fundraiser who has gotten generally good grades on his handling of the worst pandemic to strike this world in over a century, could be the favorite to win a second term.

Doesn't matter if the Democratic opposition is Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley or Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley. Or somebody else. They would be underdogs if going into a head-to-head race with the incumbent Republican (who will be 75 years old by the November 2022 election).

The trick for DeWine will be getting his name on the November general election ballot next year.

DeWine says he plans to run for re-election, but he does have plenty of time to reconsider. I have known the diminutive fellow with the Coke-bottle glasses for a long, long time and I have never known him to back away from a political brawl. Mike DeWine, Street Fighter.

If it's a fight he's after, he's going to get one in the GOP primary next spring.

Here's the likely line-up of DeWine opponents in a Republican gubernatorial primary:

  • Jim Renacci, the former congressman from Northeast Ohio who has more money than Rich Uncle Pennybags in the Monopoly board game. Renacci, who ran for governor briefly in 2018 before switching over to the Senate race, where he was defeated by Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown, has been assaulting DeWine and his economic record almost daily on Twitter for over a year now.
  • Warren Davidson, the congressman who replaced John Boehner in Ohio's 8th Congressional District. Davidson seems to think the way to the hearts of Trump voters in Ohio is by introducing meaningless legislation to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci.
  • And Joe Blystone, a rancher from Eastern Ohio, who, with his long gray beard, looks like the picture of a late 19th century Ohio governor. Blystone is making waves in far-right circles; he is an anti-masker who thinks people like Renacci and Davidson are two namby-pamby to beat DeWine.

There may be more to come out of the woodwork.

So how concerned should DeWine be about all of this opposition within his own party?

"I do think he is in trouble,'' said David Niven, professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati. "Mainly because of the degree to which the firmament beneath his feet has changed. Ohio Republicans are clearly part of the party of Trump."

DeWine might want to pick up the phone and commiserate with Mike Castle, the former Republican governor of Delaware, who has had the experience of being blown out of the water by voters of his own party in a primary.

Back in 2010, Castle – who, at the time, was the closest thing to a liberal you could find in the Republican Party - entered a GOP primary to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Joe Biden, who, of course, was Barack Obama's veep at the time.

Castle was enormously popular in Delaware. Polls showed that he could beat any Democrat in a general election by ridiculous margins.

But then he was challenged in the GOP primary by a Tea Party activist named Christine O'Donnell. She had run before, without success, but in this low-turnout primary with a substantial Tea Party vote, she defeated Castle by six points.

Then, in September, comic Bill Maher ran a clip on his TV show in which O'Donnell said she had "dabbled in witchcraft" in her younger days but said she never joined a coven. During the general election campaign, she ran a TV ad entitled I Am Not A Witch, which was so weird it was parodied onSaturday Night Live.

Needless to say, the Democrat clobbered her in the general election. Another "triumph" for the Tea Party.

DeWine has no witches planning to run against him in the GOP primary – at least none that we know of – but he is going to have his hands full.

"He could end up being doomed by his own popularity,'' Niven said.

Mack Mariani, professor of political science at Xavier University, said that if he wins the primary the bulk of the Ohio Democrats who say they back him and his policies on the pandemic now are going to abandon him in a general election.

"If he is going to be running against a real Democratic candidate, I would think most of those people are going to go home to the Democrat,'' Mariani said. "All that praise Mike DeWine is getting from those Democrats is going to go away."

Here's the best case scenario for DeWine in a GOP primary – that it becomes a crowded field of GOP Trumpsters and anti-vaxxers splitting up that vote and allowing DeWine to get by with the more moderate, establishment Republicans. And there still are plenty of them, believe it or not.

Three opponents might be enough. Four, five or even six would be ideal for DeWine.

"That's his best hope," Niven said. "Divide and conquer."

But if that crowded field doesn't materialize and it ends up being DeWine versus one or two Trump accolytes, Niven doesn't discount the possibility that DeWine might just decide to end a political career that stretches over six decades.

"I think it's possible,'' Niven said. "He can always just walk off into the sunset."

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.
Copyright 2021 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.