COLUMBUS — A former consumer watchdog under President Barack Obama pushed into the final days of an unexpectedly close Democratic gubernatorial primary in Ohio against an ex-congressman with a catchy populist slogan.
In final ads headed into Tuesday's primary, Democrat Richard Cordray used his wife, Peggy, to lovingly push back against the perception that he's a bore. The spots emphasized the 59-year-old Cordray's intellect and work for everyday Americans as head of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Ohio attorney general.
Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, 71, has challenged Cordray for supporting gun rights and campaigned to his left on such issues as civil rights and environmental protection. Questioned over his ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Cleveland's former "boy mayor" was punctuating the final push of his "Power To We The People" campaign with joint appearances featuring fiery Bernie Sanders devotee Nina Turner and actor Danny Glover.
The Democratic race also includes two lesser-known candidates: state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, 38, and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill, 71. With voter turnout potentially low, Schiavoni's popularity in his native Mahoning Valley and O'Neill's support from a pro-marijuana legalization group threw further wrenches into Cordray's chances for an easy victory.
Once the crowded primary concludes, Republicans hope to hold onto the seat held by GOP Gov. John Kasich, a two-term governor and 2016 presidential contender who's term-limited.
But the strikingly nasty Republican primary between Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor has buoyed Democrats' hopes of facing a damaged candidate for the open seat this fall.
In a $10 million-plus ad war between the campaigns, Taylor, 52, has labeled the former U.S. senator and lieutenant governor "DC DeWine" and painted him as a liberal the likes of Obama and Hillary Clinton. DeWine, 71, has called Taylor a "phony conservative" who's unqualified and often was absent from her job.
With support from conservative and Tea Party groups, Taylor pledges to support Republican President Donald Trump's agenda, including rolling back Medicaid expansion under the federal health care law that was supported by the Kasich administration she serves in. DeWine, the party's endorsed candidate, has walked a more careful line on Trump in anticipation of needing to win the bellwether state statewide in November.
The state Democratic Party has stayed out of the primary for governor, aside from hosting a series of debates around the state for their fluctuating field of candidates.
Kucinich was a surprise entrant into the Democratic primary just as Cordray appeared to have consolidated key Democratic support behind his campaign. Former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, of Barberton, signed on as his running mate, elevating the ticket's profile in critical northeast Ohio, and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and former state legislator Connie Pillich both withdrew and endorsed the Cordray-Sutton ticket.
DeWine also worked to consolidate key GOP support, persuading onto his ticket Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, 50, a well-funded former state lawmaker who promised to be a formidable primary competitor.
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