Tuesday marked the first time since 1978 where an incumbent Ohio Governor competed in a primary election. Mike DeWine easily won the Republican party nomination over his three primary challengers: Former Congressman Jim Renacci, former State Representative Ron Hood, and local farmer Joe Blystone. All of his primary opponents ran on a much more conservative platform and vied for an endorsement from former President Donald Trump – which never came.
Despite enjoying a 60% approval rating in the first quarter of 2022, DeWine faced considerable criticism on his handling of the COVID-19 virus during the primary contest. He was the first governor to close K-12 schools at the onset of the pandemic. He also implemented a mask mandate and enforced restrictions on businesses. DeWine’s primary challengers frequently hit him on these decisions and his administration’s implementation of mitigation measures.
DeWine also received heavy criticism from Trump following his public acknowledgment of the legitimacy of Biden’s victory, which prompted Trump to tweet “Who will be running for Governor of the Great State of Ohio? Will be hotly contested!” Trump’s opposition to DeWine riled up staunchly conservative voters lending support to the primary challengers even without a formal endorsement. A poll conducted on April 24 found that the top two Republican challengers, Renacci and Blystone, had a combined 43% support from likely voters, with DeWine sharing an equal percentage, setting the stage for the challengers to split the vote too significantly to mount a real threat to the incumbent governor. Renacci would finish with approximately 28% of the primary vote; Blystone even less with 21%.
On the Democratic side, former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley secured her party’s gubernatorial nomination with 65% of the vote. Her campaign has leaned in on her personal narrative: Whaley hails from a small town and blue collar family, often touting that she is the only non-millionaire running for governor. Whaley has been quick to criticize Ohio’s Republican Party which has had its fair share of political scandals over the last few decades and is pledging to create a new public accountability commission and to work with the (Republican-led) legislature to enact a comprehensive ethics law.
She is focused on growing the state’s economy and has issued a jobs plan that features requirements for state assistance, incentives, or tax abatements: Companies whose employees are paid so little that they qualify for Medicaid programs at Ohio taxpayer expense will be prohibited from receiving any of these incentives until they provide a remedy for employee compensation. Firms that actively oppose union organizing drives will also be prohibited from receiving assistance, incentives, or abatements.
Whaley has an uphill climb against Governor DeWine. He will go into the general election as the odds-on favorite with wide name recognition from previous elected roles as a state senator, Congressman, U.S. Senator, Lt. Governor, Attorney General and then Governor, the advantage of plenty of campaign funds, and a poorly polling Democratic U.S. President. The state as a whole has gotten reliably redder and has not elected a Democrat to the Governor’s Mansion since 2006. Ratings gurus have this contest projected as a likely Republican win.
*It should be noted that Ohio House, Senate, and State Central Committee races were originally scheduled to be on this primary ballot however due to the Ohio Supreme Court’s (fourth) rejection of the proposed maps for the Statehouse, a primary for those races is expected to be scheduled in early August.