COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday that he is accustomed to facing primary opponents and he feels “very, very good” about his chances of reelection next year despite a growing field of challengers.
“I was thinking this morning that throughout my career it’s a rare time that I do not have a primary opponent,” DeWine said, a day after former GOP U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci announced his gubernatorial bid. “That is the nature of life, that’s the nature of politics.”
Joe Blystone, a Canal Winchester farmer and conservative, also has been working to build grassroots support for his long-shot challenge to DeWine — and the intraparty pushback may not stop there. U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson is among additional Republicans who still could join the race.
Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley is running on the Democratic side.
DeWine told reporters he is not shocked to be facing competition. During his first run for governor in 2018, when DeWine was attorney general, he merged his primary campaign with then-Secretary of State Jon Husted — bringing the Republican in as his running mate — and defeating sitting Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.
He said that “really investing in Ohioans, investing in the future” has been something his administration has “not only talked about, but we’ve put money into it, we’ve put action into it. I feel very, very good about where we are.”
Ohio political history would suggest DeWine may have to take Renacci’s challenge seriously, however.
In 2006, Republican Ken Blackwell ran to the right in the GOP primary for governor and defeated moderate Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, in a win considered an upset. Democrat Ted Strickland went on to handily beat Blackwell in the general election.
DeWine on Thursday pushed back against criticism of his sometimes aggressive response to the coronavirus response, which included shuttering schools statewide, a recently lifted mask requirement and other restrictions. Renacci has said DeWine prioritized “fear over freedom.”
“I’ve always felt that protecting human life is an essential belief with people in the state, and the country. Certainly I believe that as far as Republicans,” DeWine said, adding, “But I also felt that protecting livelihoods, people’s ability to make a living, was also very dependent on our ability to manage the pandemic.”
DeWine called Ohio’s virus response informed, collaborative and careful.