COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday gained a second term as he defeated challenger Nan Whaley, a Democrat who hoped to regain a seat last won by her party 16 years ago. The victory by the incumbent governor was part of a GOP sweep of statewide offices.
DeWine prevailed in a surprisingly tight three-way primary in May as conservatives angered by his efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus sought to unseat him. Whaley handily defeated former Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley in her primary.
“This is Ohio’s time in history, things are coming our way," DeWine said in his victory speech. But he also said unfinished business lay ahead, from ensuring proper prenatal and post-natal care for children, making sure students graduating from high school have a clear pathway to college or other career opportunities, and removing barriers to treatment for addiction and mental illness.
“I will continue to push forward and to lead and to talk about the things that we have to do,” DeWine said.
DeWine and Whaley bonded briefly over the 2019 mass shooting that killed nine in Dayton and wounded more than two dozen. But Whaley increasingly criticized the governor for his failure to pass stronger gun laws and for his anti-abortion stance.
“A tough night,” a disappointed Whaley acknowledged, even as she urged supporters to continue pushing for gun control, abortion rights, universal pre-K and raising the minimum wage.
“Tonight we can mourn this loss, but tomorrow we get back to work,” Whaley said.
Republican incumbents retained four other statewide seats, with Attorney General Dave Yost defeating Democrat Jeff Crossman; Auditor Keith Faber defeating Democrat Taylor Sappington; Treasurer Robert Sprague defeating Democrat Scott Schertzer; and Secretary of State Frank LaRose defeating Democrat Chelsea Clark and Independent Terpsehore “Tore” Maras.
Races for Ohio House and Senate seats are the first test of new legislative maps drawn by the Ohio Redistricting Commission meant to reduce gerrymandering. The maps before voters were found unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court but a federal judge ordered them used for this election only.
In three Ohio Supreme Court races, Republican Justices Pat DeWine and Pat Fischer retained their seats, while GOP Justice Sharon Kennedy defeated Democrat Justice Jennifer Brunner for the office of chief justice. With DeWine certain to nominate a Republican to replace Kennedy, the court will remain a 4-3 GOP majority body.
Voters also approved ballot issues requiring judges to consider criminal suspects’ threat to public safety when setting bail amounts; and prohibiting local governments from allowing non-U.S. citizens to vote in local elections.
DeWine, 75, has generally portrayed himself above the campaign fray, declining without explanation to debate Whaley. His campaign resisted attack ads against Whaley until last month, when it criticized her for supporting the American Rescue Plan Act in her role as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The ads fail to mention that DeWine has promoted grants the state received through the pandemic relief measure.
Whaley, 46, said DeWine was afraid of debate questions about his role in a $60 million bribery scheme aimed at passing legislation to prop up Ohio’s two nuclear power plants; the controversy over a 10-year-old Ohio girl forced to seek an abortion in Indiana after being raped; and his decision to sign a law allowing school districts to arm trained employees.
DeWine has said Ohioans already know him and his positions well. Besides being one of the state’s most familiar politicians, DeWine also spent months at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic appearing in daily statewide broadcasts.
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