It is far too soon to be thinking about the 2018 Ohio gubernatorial election. This 2016 presidential election has so many implications as to where American politics is going that whatever happens next is basically unpredictable.
That being said, it would be foolish to believe that both potential candidates and the state political parties aren’t thinking about the 2018 election. And if Ohioians want the best out of state politics, a general election matchup between Lieutenant Gov. Mary Taylor and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan is needed.
In order to come to this sort of conclusion, the current state of the two major political parties in Ohio and what they need to do to win in 2018 needs to be examined. When doing so, it is strikingly easy to see how strong the Ohio Republican Party is compared to the Ohio Democratic Party.
The Ohio GOP is packed with many major names, including Gov. John Kasich, who has survived this long into the 2016 presidential race. Any one of the major players in the Ohio GOP can be a strong candidate, and they themselves know it. During a panel in February of Republican state executives, Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted avoided the answer on whether they are interested in running for governor completely, trying to play off that they’re just focused on their current job and not their future careers.
At this point, it’s better to start with who probably won’t be running in the Ohio GOP. In that same panel, Auditor and probable Attorney General candidate Dave Yost made it clear: “I will not be a candidate for governor in 2018.” Alongside Yost, Treasurer and Ohio’s favorite political whippersnapper Josh Mandel will probably forego the governor’s race for another position. Despite not confirming it, he has made it clear that he’ll work toward a rematch of the 2012 Senate race between him and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2018.
This leaves us with three major Ohio Republicans that will probably be in the running for the governor’s office: DeWine, Husted and Taylor. Husted is definitely moving up in state politics and would be a frontrunner in any other state, but being the Secretary of State doesn’t give him as much of a leg up on his opponents when it comes to executive experience.
DeWine, a former U.S. senator, has been a major player in Ohio politics for a long time and currently is the head of 1,767 state employees, but that might be his biggest weakness. In an election that will be just two years after a presidential race and that has been influenced by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, “establishment” will probably be a dirtier political term than it is now. DeWine is just uncool, man.
Even while being the lieutenant governor, Taylor balances both executive experience and outsider appeal, which the Ohio GOP needs in order to continue its dominance of Ohio politics. She knows about being the outsider, as she was the only major Republican in the Ohio executive branch while she was the state auditor when Ted Strickland was governor. Not to mention that the idea of the first elected female governor in Ohio is enticing, especially if Hillary Clinton becomes president.
She’s not running yet, despite making herself more visible in recent months. But as she continues her term (or becomes governor if by some miracle Kasich becomes president), she is making herself out to be the strongest candidate in a field of heavyweights.
The same can’t be said for Ohio Democrats. As shown by Ed FitzGerald’s possible career-ending defeat in the 2014 gubernatorial race against Kasich, the Ohio Democratic Party is weak. The only way they can stand a chance in 2018 is to do the opposite of what they did in 2014: put forward an experienced, reliable politician. And for Ohio Democrats, only one person fits that role: seven-term U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan.
There are other candidates that could risk their positions for the governor’s seat, such as Ohio Democratic Chair David Pepper and U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton. Other candidates might be good progressive fodder, such as Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Richard Cordray and Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. But if Ohio Democrats want to stay relevant in state politics, they need to play it safe and strong, which is the embodiment of Ryan.
With one candidate that balances executive and outsider experience for the Republican Party and another that can be a strong voice for the Democratic Party, Ohio would see a very strong, engaging gubernatorial race in 2018. The two candidates have their potential problems, such as Taylor’s alleged negligence in her office and some of Ryan’s votes, including one for increased government background checks on Syrian refugees. These issues, if brought about the right way, would just be part of a healthy gubernatorial race.
A lot can change in a year and a half — enough that it makes this vision seem silly. But Taylor and Ryan both fit their parties needs right now, and such a hypothetical election would show state politics and elections at its best.