Gary Abernathy, a contributing columnist for The Post, is a freelance writer based in Hillsboro, Ohio.
There was high drama in Ohio’s gubernatorial race, with polls going into Tuesday showing a neck-and-neck contest, even though Republican Mike DeWine has held various offices for about four decades since being elected a county prosecutor in 1976. He’s been a state senator, congressman, lieutenant governor, U.S. senator and, currently, state attorney general.
Those years of public service by the 71-year-old DeWine were used against him by his Democratic opponent, Richard Cordray, 59, also a former state attorney general and state treasurer. Cordray played up his recent stint as director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where his ads said he was called “the sheriff of Wall Street.” He accused DeWine of being in the pocket of special interests, while DeWine accused Cordray of, among other things, failing to test rape kits when he was attorney general.
DeWine is a traditional Republican whose personal manner reflects courtesy and decorum. In other words, President Trump he isn’t. Republican voters aligned with Trump weren’t particularly enthusiastic about DeWine, whose career has represented a more moderate approach than the president’s.
DeWine appeared at recent Trump rallies, but he also relied on campaign help from Ohio governor and Trump critic John Kasich, leading to murmurs questioning where DeWine stands — with Trump or with Kasich? But while DeWine’s career has been more about a steady hand on the wheel than a disrupter, he was blessed with an opponent who was not exactly Mr. Excitement. This was a race between policy wonks, and voters’ familiarity with the longer-serving of the two carried the day.
At least the governor’s race was interesting. Ohio’s U.S. Senate contest between Republican Rep. Jim Renacci and incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown was never in real doubt, although Brown’s victory was narrower than some polls predicted — a shame for Renacci, since the National Republican Senatorial Committee essentially gave up over bad poll numbers. Renacci’s problems were evident in the fact that his name was consistently mispronounced by cable news commentators throughout election night.
For Republicans, it was a lost opportunity. Brown might have been vulnerable against a more charismatic opponent with a greater degree of national support. Trump included Renacci in his recent Ohio rallies, but even Republicans acknowledged the effort was more out of party loyalty than an eye toward an upset victory.
Brown’s lunch-bucket appeal to blue-collar Ohioans is belied by his liberal voting record, but he’s a relentless grass-roots campaigner aided by familiarity here based on decades as a statewide name, including stints as a congressman, interrupted by a turn as Ohio’s secretary of state, leading to his election to the Senate in 2006. Plus, Brown has craftily allied himself with Trump on trade issues. A final interesting result was the defeat of Ohio’s Issue 1, which would have significantly lessened penalties for possession of illegal drugs. The issue was opposed by most public officials, including judges and prosecutors, but Cordray was openly in favor of it — which may have contributed to his defeat.