COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Republicans have a chance to complete their statewide domination in 2018 by unseating a Democratic U.S. senator while maintaining their hold on governor and other statewide offices.
However, the traditional presidential bellwether also offers Democrats a chance to blunt GOP momentum in mid-term elections with a president whose approval ratings have been skidding like Ohio drivers on early morning ice. President Donald Trump racked up 52 percent of the vote for a convincing victory in Ohio a little more than a year ago, but national polls show his job performance so far is getting low marks.
Although he won’t be on the 2018 ballot, his party could have to absorb some of the discontent with his performance. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll this month put his approval rating at 32 percent, the least-popular first-year president on record.
And the Democratic ticket in the state will be led by Sen. Sherrod Brown, a long-time officeholder with a history of strong support from the kind of blue-collar workers Trump carried last year.
“There should be a lot going on in Ohio next year,” said Kyle Kondik, an Ohio native at the University of Virginia Center for Politics who authored a book about the state titled “The Bellwether.” ”It’s just an interesting year.”
A glance at Buckeye State stakes in 2018:
WILL BROWN KEEP SENATE SEAT BLUE?
Any Democratic scenario for gaining a Senate majority is unlikely to allow for a Brown loss. The expectation has been for a rematch with Republican second-term Treasurer Josh Mandel, who echoes Trump on issues such as immigration.
However, banker Mike Gibbons is in Mandel’s path and has raised eyebrows by winning endorsements by the Franklin County Republican Party, in the state capital. Also, Republican Gov. John Kasich, still popular among Ohioans, and Mandel aren’t mutual admirers.
Brown won election to his second term in 2012 with nearly 51 percent of the vote to nearly 45 percent for Mandel.
Kondik said unless Trump’s ratings improve, the Republican nominee would have to persuade people who don’t approve of the president to vote against an incumbent senator, a tall order.
In a crowded race to replace the term-limited Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine has already won a victory: he got Secretary of State Jon Husted to give up his gubernatorial bid to join his ticket against GOP competitors Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci.
DeWine, a former U.S. senator and, like Brown, a fixture in Ohio politics for decades, will have name recognition and likely fundraising advantages.
“It does seem like the DeWine-Husted union is a pretty formidable ticket,” Kondik said.
The early front-runner among a half-dozen Democrats running or talking of running is Richard Cordray, who recently left his Washington job heading the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. A former attorney general, Cordray was unseated from that job by DeWine in 2010.
“If it’s a rematch, I think DeWine is probably stronger now than he was eight years ago,” said Kondik, who served on Cordray’s staff in the attorney general’s office.
Ohioans have also been showing a steady preference for Republican governors — only Democrat Ted Strickland’s one term has interrupted what will next year make 24 years of GOP leadership in the last 28.
Since scrapping his presidential bid last year, Kasich has upped his national profile by becoming a vocal Trump detractor on cable news shows, publishing a book and leading an effort to stay relevant on significant federal policy topics.
That’s fueled speculation that he plans to seek the presidency again in 2020.
Some wonder whether Kasich would consider running as an Independent or as a third-party candidate. He’s couched his steady criticism of the president and fellow Republicans who back him in national calls for civility, bipartisan compromise and political guts. He calls it “country over party.”
Meanwhile, a Democratic congressman, Tim Ryan, has been traveling to other states, including the early presidential battleground states of Iowa and New Hampshire, stirring speculation that he’s exploring a possible run.
And a decisive re-election victory for Brown could get him into the 2020 speculation with a heartland base after Trump’s stunning wins in the region. Like his Republican counterpart in Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman, Brown has been under running-mate consideration in the past.
Sewell reported from Cincinnati.