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Two Years After Trump Won Ohio, GOP Governor Candidates Vie For Same Voters

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

The Ohio governor primary is the first election for statewide office since the state supported Donald Trump in 2016. That means we could soon learn a lot about Ohio’s Republican voters and the real impact Trump has had on state politics. 

The Republican gubernatorial ballot has gone through several changes since this race started. What was once a four-person race is now a two-person battle between Mike DeWine and Mary Taylor.

Taylor was a state lawmaker and the state auditor before becoming Gov. John Kasich’s lieutenant governor for the past seven years. She says the 2016 presidential election was a clear indication that voters wanted something different. So her strategy has been to reach out to the so-called “Trump voters.”

“They want to know that the candidate they’re choosing is in fact not only going to campaign as a conservative but to govern as a conservative,” Taylor says. “And they also want to know that they’re going to challenge the status quo and my record says that I, very clearly, that I am willing to challenge the status quo and the establishment.”

DeWine also spent decades in public service. He’s been attorney general since 2011, and before that was a U.S. Senator and lieutenant governor. When asked if he’s worried about being tagged as the establishment politician, he says voters don’t pay attention to labels.

“What people tell me is, ‘Look, we want to know what you’re going to do to make my life better. What you’re going to do to make my kid’s life better. How you’re going to fix the education problem. What’re you going to do about this horrible, horrible opioid problem,’” DeWine says.

While DeWine started this campaign focused on the issues, his strategy took a turn when he and Taylor started trading blows with negative ads.

“Career politician Mary Taylor is lying,” claims one DeWine ad, while Taylor’s campaign ad shoots back with, “D.C. DeWine, too liberal for too long.”

Polls have shown DeWine with a strong lead the entire race. But both candidates have spent nearly $5 million each on this tough primary fight.

Taylor has made gun-owner rights and the Second Amendment a cornerstone of her campaign. At a pro-gun rally on the Statehouse steps, with a shotgun slung over her shoulder, Taylor distanced herself from DeWine and even her former running mate, Gov. John Kasich.

“So here is our message to John Kasich, Mike DeWine, and every other establishment politician…come and take it!” Taylor says.

As Taylor notes, DeWine has received poor reviews from the NRA based on his voting record on gun-control measures in the U.S. Senate. While he’s endorsed by the Buckeye Firearms Association, Taylor is backed by Ohioans for Concealed Carry.

DeWine says he’s been an advocate for gun owners, such as working to expand reciprocity. But when he’s pressed on possibly supporting some gun control measure, he offers some flexibility.

“We’re open to anything that is in fact reasonable and does actually accomplish something,” DeWine says.

The question that every candidate running for governor must answer is how they will address Ohio’s widespread opioid epidemic. Although Medicaid expansion has helped treat hundreds of thousands of Ohioans with addiction recovery, Taylor says those programs are economically unstable.

“As governor I will propose and I will fight for a ballot initiative put before the state of Ohio for the state to incentivize the private sector to build out the continuum of care for all of those living with addiction today to give them real help and hope and healing,” Taylor says.

DeWine, meanwhile, has implemented different programs to fight the opioid epidemic through law enforcement with additional events with local groups.

"We’re only going to be successful at saving lives if we really focus at the local level, so I put together a team that can go out and help local communities really come up with grassroots efforts,” DeWine says.

DeWine agrees that Medicaid is economically unstable and hopes Congress will make changes that will allow his administration to redesign the program.

Both DeWine and Taylor, in their ads, have tried to position themselves as allies of President Trump. Taylor has attended all three of the president’s trips to Ohio in the past year. While DeWine didn’t go to those events, he did travel to D.C. to take part in a meeting with the Trump Administration regarding opioids.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.