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Commentary: Republican Food Fight Can Only Be Good For Ohio Democrats

Ohio Republican Candidates for governor Mary Taylor (left) and Mike DeWine.
AP Photos

If you happen to be a fan of name-calling, low blows and street brawls, you couldn't help but love Ohio's Republican primary for governor.

Then again, if you do love such things, you might want to set aside some time for quiet reflection. Frankly, speaking as one who has been covering politics even longer than Mike DeWine has been in politics, it can get a bit tiresome.

Some might describe the on-going Armageddon between DeWine, now Ohio's attorney general, and Mary Taylor, hand-picked by Gov. John Kasich eight years ago to be his lieutenant governor, as tiresome in the extreme.

This is big-time stuff we are talking about here – choosing the next governor of the seventh-largest state in the nation in terms of population – and it has taken on all the class and thoughtfulness of a junior high school food fight.

According to Taylor, DeWine is a “career politician” who has spent over 40 years running for one public office or another, as well as a "liberal" who hasn't towed the line with President Trump.

According to DeWine, Taylor is a "slacker" whose "work schedule is almost untraceable." And, oh yes, she's "unfit" and "unqualified" to be governor anyway. A DeWine TV ad says Taylor spent 12 years as lieutenant governor and state auditor doing nothing.

Taylor went off on DeWine after that one, issuing a statement saying,"DeWine pathetically insulted me while hiding behind an ad agency and his cronies, but still refuses to say it to my face in a debate."

"Should he choose to, I'll gladly look him in the eye and tell him what I have been doing the last 12 years,'' Taylor said, adding a laundry list of conservative credentials. "And I've done all of this while fighting through the hell of my sons' fights with addiction,'' she said.

Taylor often talks about her sons, who are in recovery from opioid addition.

But she wasn't done with DeWine: "What have you been doing, Mike DeWine, besides handing out ice cream recipes and building a revisionist history of your own record?"

Taylor has been making her pitch to Ohio's Trump voters of 2016 – many of whom had voted Democratic in the past. Her argument is that she is the governor who would carry The Donald's water for him in Ohio for the next four years, maybe more.

Trump stunned just about everybody – probably including himself – by winning Ohio by eight percentage points in 2016 over Hillary Clinton, after Barack Obama won the Buckeye State in the previous two elections.

Not a bad bandwagon for Taylor to climb aboard. Except for the fact that it is already occupied by Mike DeWine.

Trump's people pulled off a coup in January 2017 when they packed an Ohio Republican Party executive committee meeting and ousted Kasich's state party chairman, Matt Borges, replacing Borges with Trump supporter Jane Timken. You may have noticed over the past few years that Trump and Kasich pretty much despise each other.

A pro-Taylor super PAC called Onward Ohio launched an ad calling DeWine a liberal and anti-Trump politician on issues such as guns, trade and immigration.

Bob Paduchik, an old Ohio hand who is co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, put out a statement slamming Taylor for a "false and misleading" ad. Paduchik, who was state director of the Trump-Pence campaign in Ohio, called Taylor a political opportunist who was "missing in action" during the 2016 campaign.

If the scant public polling that is out there is any indication, this DeWine-Taylor contest is not much of a race. 

A poll done last month for WOIO-TV in Cleveland had DeWine with 50 percent support among GOP primary voters, compared to 18 percent for Taylor. Another 31 percent said they were undecided.

Seems like an awful lot of sturm und drang for a race that doesn't seem very competitive.

Mack Mariani, associate professor and chair of the political science department at Xavier University, said he doesn't expect those numbers to change much. One reason is that DeWine has consistently rejected or simply ignored any proposal that the two of them stand side-by-side on a stage and debate the issues.

That would be interesting – a campaign made up of 30-second TV ads allows candidates to hurl insults at each other long-distance; it is much harder to pull off when you are standing onstage next to your opponent.

Mariani said that Taylor is not, at this point, "a serious threat" to DeWine. He said he doesn't mean that as an insult.

"She is a serious candidate; she is not a gadfly,'' Mariani said. "She just can't compete with the name recognition and the money of a DeWine at this point."

Over on the Democratic side, they are having their own nasty little tussle, principally featuring Richard Cordray and Dennis Kucinich. But the longer this Republican food fight goes on, the better for the Democrats.

"The Democrats would like to see the Republican race become competitive and divisive,'' Mariani said. "What they want to see is a completely divided Republican Party."

“Politically Speaking” is WVXU reporter Howard Wilkinson’s weekly column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us. Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974.