The DeWine/Husted Deal

By John Corrigan


(Columbus) In a power move, Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted, teamed up yesterday in an effort to create Republican Party unity in the face of a very difficult and fluid environment in 2018.  

Behind the move, 3rd Rail Politics hears, were several factors associated with both men’s campaigns. The Ohio Republican Party was not directly involved with the effort for the No. 1 and No. 2 leading candidates to join forces, it was more of a factor of mutual friends and consultants who support either DeWine or Husted and saw the combination as a logical choice to spare the party a nasty primary that would deplete valuable resources in 2018. An exercise in practicality, if you will.

Husted’s allies gambled this Summer that if a Political Action Committee that supported Husted, “Ohio Conservatives For Change” could leverage large financial donations to spend millions of dollars advancing Husted, and tearing down the campaign of U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (R-16), the combination of factors could position Husted to overtake the better-known DeWine through public opinion polling.

DeWine’s internal numbers have always shown him ahead in the formerly 4 person race by about 18 points. DeWine has been on the statewide ballot as a Lt. Governor candidate, U.S. Senate hopeful and candidate 3 times, and once as State Attorney General from 1990-2014.  Husted has been on the statewide ballot twice since 2010.  DeWine has always enjoyed a reservoir of good will from GOP primary voters based on his tenure.

Husted’s supporters’ strategy was to cut that lead down to under 10 points to be in striking distance through a sophisticated positive media and direct mail campaign.  When all was said and done, Husted gained a net 4 points in the polls, to a 14 point deficit.  

Husted’s supporters’ second approach was to work to knock Renacci out of the race through the PAC hits, weaken him to convince him to run for another state office, or drop out altogether. Renacci has consistently polled in private polls at under 5% statewide.  

For DeWine, the decision to spend a modest amount of money in October and November to shore up his slide was made, and a small scale media campaign quickly was employed to boost the GOP front runner. He calculated that he would not have to do much, but enough to block Husted while staying positive and keeping good relations between the camps.  

Given the weakness of Husted’s position, and strengths of DeWine’s, behind the scenes discussions with political operatives and donors lead both camps to the logical conclusion that a DeWine-Husted ticket would be beneficial to all, have been taking place for months, culminating in yesterday’s announcement.

In addition to the polling, major County GOP Organizations are about to swing into action to endorse in the Governor’s race.  Franklin and Cuyahoga County’s Republicans have early endorsement processes. These two counties represent some of the most voter rich territory in a primary.  Both are said to have been leaning heavily towards a DeWine endorsement before the DeWine-Husted announcement.

The pairing may have prevented a GOP donnybrook and the party unity it buys may allow the all Southwest Ohio ticket to be competitive against an emboldened Democratic base, looking for blood in 2018.

Husted’s gamble may pay off yet, but funny things happen on the way to the Lt. Governor’s office. Ask Husted’s close ally Tom Raga, the former State Representative who teamed up with Ken Blackwell to dominate the 2006 GOP Primary, only to go onto defeat to Lee Fisher as L.G.  A gentleman named Richard Cordray was elected State Treasurer that year.

Reaction to the DeWine-Husted ticket varied from flattery from veterans GOP operatives, to the height of scorn by Renacci supporters, and the more vocal Taylorites.

Famously bombastic Tom “Z” Zawistowski, head of the Tea Party style group, Ohio Citizen PAC, took to social media to denounce the move.

Z stated in part, “While we understand that this type of move makes sense from an economic and political stand point, and that it has a lot to do with the expected announcement next week that Richard Cordray will finally announce that he is running for Governor on the Democratic side, however, doing so shows contempt for the primary process and confirms all that voters feel is wrong with our political system. The system in both political parties is clearly rigged. The ruling/donor class decides who gets on the ballot and who does not and the voters are basically told that they can “vote for anyone you want” as long as it is one of the candidates the ruling class “allows” to be on the ballot.”

Terry Fleming, the retired energy industry lobbyist and Taylor supporter had this to say, “So the state Republican party and all the good old boys are rejoicing as Husted joins DeWine but let’s see if the voters want a back room deal to decide who is next candidate for Governor,” according to his Facebook page.

For his own part, Renacci panned the idea, to nobody’s surprise. In a video announcement, he exhorted Husted believers to endorse his own campaign, “Today two career politicians have joined forces, offering nothing but the status quo. The choice could not be more clear.” The 3 term Congressman spoke in Trumpian language about ‘Ohio First.’