DeWine says voters looked for competence and good managers when they picked governors this cycle

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Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine attended different events heading into Election Day. (Salena Zito)

DeWine says voters looked for competence and good managers when they picked governors this cycle

This is the last installment of a four-part series looking at four candidates for governor — three Republican and one Democrat — who won their races handily, attracting broad coalitions with messages of governance over ideology that proved effective and serve as lessons to both parties.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Republican Gov. Mike DeWine easily defeated Democrat and former Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley in his reelection bid, it wasn’t the largest win in a governors race in the history of the Buckeye State. But it was pretty darn close. That’s quite the accomplishment for a candidate from any party who has could have been pegged a career politician and out of touch with the needs of the people and state; yet through good governing and deft management, the Springfield native was able to win by forming a broad coalition of voters to support him.

DeWine, who began his career as a prosecutor, had run for and won elected office in Ohio as a state senator, congressman, lieutenant governor, U.S. senator, and attorney general before he became governor in 2019. The only race he lost was in 2006, when Democrat Sherrod Brown challenged him for his U.S. Senate seat and defeated him in that year’s wave election cycle that thrust Democratic candidates into the majority in Washington.

DeWine said that this year’s reelection required him to stay focused on the things that voters really care about, but also those things they accomplished in his first term. “Just as an example, one of our ads was really focused on career tech, focused on the young people in high school, in our career tech programs in Ohio,” he said. “We also talked a lot about jobs coming to Ohio and people getting the training that they need for those jobs.”

DeWine ran in 2018 on a promise to invest in the people of Ohio. “In that call to invest, I said we’re not going to see the immediate results,” he said. “Yet through early childhood education, early childhood development, prenatal care, postnatal care, we will see a difference in our future.”

His wife Fran embraced the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, which went from zero to 350,000 books — free books that go out in the mail to children from birth to 5 years of age — every single month.

“We’ve also put a great deal of focus on our high schools that are focused on young people learning particular trades,” he said. “It’s not always welding. It’s not always culinary arts. A lot of times, it’s high-tech manufacturing. Our goal is for every Ohioan to be able to live up to their full potential, every Ohioan be able to live their version, whatever that is, of the American dream; to do that, we have to make sure that every Ohioan from early on has education that they need.”

DeWine said the three things in Ohio that hold people back from that success are education, addiction, and untreated mental health problems — areas his administration took on in his first four years in office.

“Look, 80% of our deaths last year were accidental overdose deaths,” he said. “At least 80% of those involve fentanyl, which is killing the vast majority of people; it’s so unbelievably potent, and the drug cartels are mixing it into virtually everything now.” Almost all of it is coming from China and across the southern border, DeWine said. “So, when people say, ‘Hey, you shouldn’t worry about the southern border. What does that have to do with Ohio?’ The answer is: what’s coming across our southern border by the drug cartels and coming up to Dayton, Ohio, or Springfield or Lima or Akron.”

Sixty-four governors of Ohio have served 70 terms. The longest was held by Jim Rhodes, who was elected four times and served in two nonconsecutive periods of two terms each from 1963 to 1971 and from 1975 to 1983.

In last month’s election, DeWine won all but three counties: Franklin (home to Columbus), Cuyahoga (home to Cleveland), and Athens County (home of Ohio University). He finds it astounding that, as a Republican candidate, he was able to win the Mahoning Valley counties of Mahoning, Trumbull, and Stark — traditionally the most Democratic counties in the state. But in fact, both he and U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance, a Middletown Republican, ran the numbers up in that working-class region.

“It is the biggest political change in Ohio,” said DeWine. “If you look at our numbers in Trumbull County, Mahoning County, just phenomenal numbers, and we carried both. It used to be when I ran statewide, I would do really well in polling in Mahoning Valley in July and August, but by the time we got to October, they had been reminded that Mike DeWine was actually a Republican, and then our numbers cratered and would get down around 40% if we were lucky.”

DeWine said of Vance, “I have a very good relationship with J.D. I got to know him shortly after Hillbilly Elegy was published. I read it, and I reached out to him; I think he’s going to be a strong voice for Ohio. I think he brings a lot to the table with his background.”

DeWine said he thinks people look to candidates for governor who have demonstrated they can fix problems. “They want people who can solve problems, attract economic development, and who are good managers,” he said. “What a governor deals with is really the most important thing in people’s lives; it is their kids, it is quality of life, that is what people look for in a governor, and I think you saw that with who people picked.”

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