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Even if she loses, Nan Whaley is making history in Ohio governor race

Nan Whaley Cheryl Stephens 010521 - CHOW.jpg
Andy Chow
/
Statehouse News Bureau
Nan Whaley, former Dayton mayor, announces Cheryl Stephens as her running mate in the 2022 Ohio gubernatorial race.

Ohio voters will decide whether to make history this November. In Ohio’s 219-year history, there has only been one female governor but she wasn’t elected.

In 1999, Nancy Hollister, the lieutenant governor under the late former governor George Voinovich, was appointed to serve 11 days in the state’s top post after he was elected to serve in the U.S. Senate.

Barbara Palmer, the executive director of the Center for Women in Politics of Ohio at Baldwin Wallace University said Democratic governor candidate Nan Whaley has already made history by being the first woman from a major party to be elected in a gubernatorial primary.

“In the history of the state, there have only ever been four women who have ever appeared on a primary ballot. And so the very first woman to ever attempt to run for governor in the state of Ohio was Evelyn Francis Snow back in 1926. She ran as a Republican and came in eighth out of 12 in the Republican primary so Nan Whaley is the first one to actually win a major party primary so that’s pretty incredible," Palmer said.

Palmer said if Whaley wins on Nov. 8, she’d be the first woman to ever be elected governor in Ohio.

While the historical significance of her candidacy might not be realized by many Ohioans, Whaley said it is something many of her supporters realize.

“It’s talked about a lot, you’d be surprised, at the events we go to. It is the point when anybody makes that I am the first female nominee for governor, it is widespread applause across the event. So, I think it’s forgotten about sometimes but for folks, and particularly women who have fought so long for women in leadership, they are really excited," Whaley said.

But polling suggests it's unlikely Ohioans will choose Whaley and her running-mate Cheryl Stephens over incumbents Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov Jon Husted on Nov. 8. Most polls show he has a double-digit lead over her at this point.

Ohio State University Professor Emeritus Paul Beck said Whaley, the former mayor of Dayton, isn’t as well-known statewide as DeWine who has been in government for four decades.

“He’s an incumbent governor. Incumbent governors have all kinds of levers that they can pull that will enable them to have higher standing in the polls," Beck said.

One of those levers he said is free media coverage — like the announcement of new jobs coming to Ohio or the events governors typically attend on a daily basis. Plus, DeWine has refused to debate Whaley in a statewide, televised event where she would have an opportunity to explain her policies more and push back on his.

Beck noted DeWine has a financial advantage too. His campaign war chest is more than three times the size of Whaley’s. DeWine has been airing ads against Whaley, which said she raised taxes in Dayton and is a "failed mayor who will fail Ohio.”

Whaley’s campaign is quick to point out it was Dayton voters, not Whaley herself, who raised taxes though she did support the city levy that increased funding for more police officers. Beck said DeWine is further helped by the fact that this midterm election is widely believed to be a hard year for Democrats.

“Democratic candidates around the country and in Ohio are facing powerful headwinds that are holding them back. It’s a year, that it looks like on balance, is more favorable toward Republicans," Beck said.

Beck said it’s unclear what momentum the overturning of legal abortion rights nationwide earlier this summer might have on Whaley’s campaign.

She opposes Ohio’s abortion ban that could kick in as early as six weeks into a pregnancy that’s on hold in courts for now but being appealed. And she also supports a ballot measure that could codify the abortion rights afforded by Roe vs Wade in Ohio’s constitution. Beck said she might have a small advantage on that issue.

“But it’s an advantage that gets drowned out with voter concerns over inflation, the state of the economy and of course Ohio is an older state age-wise, a state that has a larger percentage of fundamentalist Christians than some of the Northern states have and so the abortion issue, even though it could be to her advantage on the margins, is going to attract a lot of people who are not sympathetic to the position that she has taken," Beck said.

Back at Baldwin Wallace, Palmer said it’s important to remember men have always had an advantage over women in politics.

“When you look at the career paths of the men who have served as governor in Ohio, they tend to have a lot of political experience. They tend to have served in the U.S. House or been in the U.S. Senate or they have served in the state legislature. And because historically we have had so few women running in those positions, we have very few women running for statewide office," Palmer said.

Palmer said men who serve as lieutenant governor often get re-elected to the top post later.

Four of the five last lieutenant governors in Ohio have been women but none have gone on to win a post as governor though Maureen O’Connor did go on to become the first woman to be chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. She’ll be replaced in that post by a woman as voters choose between current justices, Democrat Jennifer Brunner or Republican Sharon Kennedy, on November 8.

Corrected: November 3, 2022 at 7:43 AM EDT
A previous version of this story said Nan Whaley's running-mate Cheryl Stephens would be elected the first lieutenant governor. Three women, Nancy Hollister, Maureen O'Connor and Mary Taylor,
have previously been elected to that post.
Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.