The Ohio Republican gubernatorial primary is shaping up to be an intriguing test of GOP establishment staying power in the post-Trump years. Incumbent Mike DeWine is down in the polls but is sitting on a vast financial war chest. A stern advocate of strict coronavirus social curbs, DeWine is also vulnerable on immigration issues with local Republicans who like to refer to Ohio as a “Trump State” rather than a red one.
DeWine has been around for some time. He was first elected prosecutor for Greene County, Ohio in 1976. From there, he won a state Senate seat in 1981, became a U.S. House member in 1983, lieutenant governor in 1991, and then a U.S. senator from 1995-2007. He was elected governor in 2018. Now 75, DeWine has touched most of the elective office bases available in his decades in politics.
His main obstacle to re-election will be surviving the Republican primary. Three anti-DeWine challengers have appeared on the scene, with former U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci appearing to be his most serious opponent as of now.
Top Challenger Cites Polls, Local Endorsement
The Renacci team has been fueled by an internal campaign poll of 800 prospective Republican voters conducted by Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio. The results had Renacci topping DeWine by an eight percent margin, 46%-38%.
On Jan. 31, Renacci was endorsed by the suburban Cincinnati Clermont County Republican Party. “In 2020, Trump won 67 percent of the vote in Clermont County, home to 207,449 residents just east of Cincinnati,” The Cincinnati Enquirer noted.
Nonetheless, establishment Republicans remain unperturbed for now, David Drucker at the Washington Examiner reports. “DeWine raised $6.3 million last year, dwarfing the $171,000 collected by Republican primary challenger Jim Renacci, a metric that looms larger for party insiders than internal polling showing the incumbent trailing by nearly 10 percentage points,” Drucker writes.
DeWine has also been given a major boost by Intel’s decision last month to house “what could become the biggest semiconductor operation on Earth,” as The Columbus Dispatch put it, in Ohio. “Chip giant Intel … will invest $20 billion to build two computer chip plants in Jersey Township in Licking County in what will be Ohio’s largest economic development project to date,” the paper continued. That is a shot in the arm for DeWine, who naturally took credit for landing the project. But can money and a new factory overcome the deep-seated resentment many Ohio Republicans have for him?
Danger to Your Right
Ohioans are ecstatic that the Cincinnati Bengals have made the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1980s. Zingers like this Feb. 2 Renacci tweet will be effective against the governor: “The last time an Ohio team played in the Super Bowl in 1989, Mike DeWine had already been in office for over a DECADE.” A picture of a much younger, gap-toothed DeWine from 1989 accompanied the post. With a resumé that dates back some 45 years, DeWine epitomizes the career politician.
The coronavirus social curbs will also be a huge negative for DeWine in a GOP primary. He was perhaps the most fervent Republican governor in pushing mask mandates, even going so far as to express his frustration at being reined in by the state legislature. The Associated Press reported on Sept. 14: “Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday said he would have issued a statewide mask mandate to slow spiking cases of the coronavirus if the Legislature hadn’t tied his hands through a strict restriction on public health orders. DeWine, a Republican, said he fears a fight with fellow GOP lawmakers, including one that might end up in court, could cause confusion at the worst time.”
DeWine has also been criticized for his eagerness to accept foreign refugees despite having been offered the opportunity to decline by the Trump administration. “The State of Ohio has a long and successful history of welcoming and assimilating refugees from all corners of the globe,” DeWine wrote in a Dec. 24, 2019 letter to Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the decision. “Ohio also has a well-developed support network to welcome and assimilate refugees, primarily led by our faith-based communities.”
In 2021, DeWine continued to roll out the welcome mat, this time for Afghan refugees. He announced that 855 refugees would be accepted through the Biden State Department’s Afghan Placement and Assistance Program.
His long tenure in political office also reveals a track record of supporting massive immigration. Breitbart’s John Binder wrote in 2018, as DeWine ran for his first term as governor:
“For example, on the issue of ‘chain migration,’ the process by which newly naturalized citizens are allowed to bring an unlimited number of foreign relatives to the U.S., DeWine voted at least eight times while in Congress to either keep chain migration intact or increase the volume of immigration to the U.S.”
DeWine is very definitely vulnerable. The chief problem for Renacci right now is that he has yet to secure the coveted Trump endorsement that will seal his status as the anointed alternative in a state that showed its allegiance to the 45th president in 2016 and 2020.
~ Read more from Joe Schaeffer.