Ohio's lieutenant governor wants a promotion to the top job, and she's counting on the backing of her boss to help her get there.
Here's the problem: Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor is a John Kasich-backed Republican – and the governor's not a popular guy in the GOP. Kasich has turned off many Republicans with his refusal to embrace President Donald Trump; outspoken support of Medicaid expansion; and opposition GOP efforts to replace Obamacare.
Kasich has been open about his support for Taylor over the other three Republicans running to replace him when his second term ends in January 2019. It's something Taylor has to walk a fine line about on the campaign trail in Trump's Ohio.
"I absolutely welcome and want his endorsement," Taylor told The Enquirer while campaigning in Cincinnati on Wednesday.
"For the last 6½ years, it's been all about Kasich-and-Taylor, and about what Gov. Kasich's doing," Taylor added. "For me, now it's about Mary Taylor and the future of our state. Do I have differences? Yes, and as I roll out my policies it will become clear the areas where he and I have a difference approach."
The Republican nominee for governor will take on the victor among at least four Democrats who are running.
Here's what you need to know about Taylor and the other Republicans in the race.
Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor
Residence: Uniontown, between Canton and Akron
Past political experience: Started career on Green City Council; elected to Ohio House in 2002; the only Republican elected for statewide office in 2006, when she became auditor; has been Kasich's lieutenant since he was first elected in 2010
What you need to know:
Taylor started her career as an accountant and until recently led the state's insurance department. Her husband, Don Taylor, is president and CEO of a major Northeast Ohio commercial construction company.
Mary Taylor upset Kasich's team in January's Ohio Republican Party chairperson's race, when she publicly supported Donald Trump-backed Jane Timken, switching her support from Kasich-backed incumbent Matt Borges. Taylor isn't in Kasich's inner circle, but the governor has said he'll still endorse her.
Taylor's support of Timken came after the lieutenant governor hemmed and hawed her way through the turmoil that marred Trump's campaign. After the Trump video surfaced, a Taylor spokesman insisted she had never endorsed him, although she had previously said she would vote for him.
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Did Taylor start her gubernatorial campaign too late? She officially started a campaign committee this winter. Meanwhile, Mike DeWine and Jon Husted have been gearing up for two years. There has been buzz that Taylor could end up running for Congress if Jim Renacci follows through and runs for governor instead of Congress in 2018.
Regardless, Taylor's opponents have plenty of fodder to use against her. She's been criticized for not wanting to spend much time in Columbus, despite holding a state public office seat for more than 14 years. In 2011, Kasich ordered Taylor to reimburse taxpayers for using a state plane to commute from her home to the state capital. .
Yet another Taylor-centered controversy surfaced in 2014, when two employees, including her then-chief of staff, were found to have logged questionable work hours on their time cards. The employees later resigned. In all, she has had five chiefs of staff in less than three years.
Attorney General Mike DeWine
Other political experience: Ranges from Greene County prosecutor to U.S. senator; was lieutenant governor under George Voinovich
What you need to know:
Based on name recognition and political pedigree alone, DeWine is the GOP front-runner. The run for governor – which he is thought to view as the pinnacle of his career – will mark his eighth time on a statewide ballot.
Then there's his fundraising strength: He's personally worth millions, thanks to a family seed business he inherited, and has loaned money to his own campaign in the past. And his campaign credentials: Kasich operative Dave Luketic is in place to manage his campaign, backed by the longtime GOP staffers and former elected officials at The Batchelder Company. He landed an endorsement from one of the state's biggest backers of Trump, even though some on Trump's Ohio team are looking to Renacci.
A lifetime of public service allows DeWine to list accomplishments ranging from testing old rape kits to working on pediatric safety tests by drug companies. His long resume also opens him to attacks. He could be labeled by as the ultimate government insider, in an attempt to turn Trump supporters against him. (DeWine backed Trump in the election, condemning Trump's comments in the 2005 video, while keeping his endorsement in place.)
He also could face criticism in a GOP primary for some moments in his career, from his office's launch in 2013 of a statewide facial recognition system without telling the public to the gun control stances that earned him an endorsement from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in his unsuccessful Senate race against Democrat Sherrod Brown.
More recently, DeWine's office has taken over the investigation into the killings last year in Pike County, the largest homicide case in Ohio history. Whether the killings remain unsolved could factor into his legacy.
Secretary of State Jon Husted
Past political experience: Dayton-area state representative, including speaker of the House; state senator
What you need to know:
A former All-American football player at the University of Dayton, Husted passed up a career in coaching to go into politics.
He stayed in Dayton and got his start working on a congressional campaign before joining the staff of a Montgomery County commissioner. Husted joined the Dayton chamber of commerce, where he established relationships with the Miami Valley region's top business leaders and big-money political donors. Those relationships propelled him to the Statehouse in his early 30s.
As secretary of state, Husted has been more aggressive than his predecessors at trying to crack down on voter fraud. His office has used voter-roll and Bureau of Motor Vehicles records to identify non-citizen voters.
Husted has some baggage. In 2008, issues surfaced about Husted's permanent residency – whether it was the Dayton or Columbus areas. He owned a home in Kettering, but had been living in suburban Columbus, where his wife owned a house. Residency matters for voting purposes, and in 2009 the state Supreme Court ruled his permanent residence was Kettering. Now, as secretary of state, he officially lives in Columbus.
GOP circles also rumble with concerns about Husted's past ties to political operatives who were wrapped up in a federal investigation for alleged pay-for-play and kickback schemes in the Ohio House. The federal government closed that case without filing charges.
In an attempt to win over Trump backers, Husted's campaign aligned itself with Timken in her ultimately successful Ohio GOP chairperson's race. Husted also has allies on the GOP's state central committee, a move that could pay off if the group votes on a gubernatorial endorsement.
But Husted hasn't always been as pro-Trump as his Timken support would suggest. During the 2016 election, after the infamous video surfaced of Trump making lewd comments about women, Husted said he couldn't vote for either Trump or his Democratic opponent, Clinton. Instead, Husted based his decision on the vice presidential candidates, and Trump ultimately got his vote because of his support of Vice President Mike Pence.
Husted has less name recognition statewide than DeWine. Still, all those voting-related commercials his office ran last year, starring Husted and repeatedly showing or saying his name, didn't hurt.
U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci:
Residence: Wadsworth, outside Akron
Past political experience: Served on Wadsworth city council and as mayor; in Congress since 2011
What you need to know:
Renacci has parlayed his status as a self-made multi-millionaire into becoming the favorite of some Trump supporters.
On Renacci's team: Rob Scott, the Dayton-area attorney that managed Trump's primary campaign in Ohio and helped run his general election campaign here.
"There’s a hunger right now in Ohio coming off a big win with Trump for an outsider in Columbus," Scott said. “The other three (Republican candidates) really have been running for governor for years now.”
Renacci made his millions owning nursing homes, dealerships and teams in both arena football and minor league baseball. His Chevrolet dealership was forced to close after General Motors, working with a federal government team helping with its 2009 bankruptcy, terminated franchise agreements with hundreds of dealers. Outraged at what he viewed as government intervention in his business, Renacci ran for Congress.
The comparisons of Renacci to Trump only go so far. Renacci is a CPA and lacks much of Trump's flair for the dramatic. At a meeting this winter with representatives from some of Columbus' biggest corporations, he asked question after question about their effective corporate tax rates and how much their prices would go up if the government levied a certain kind of a tax. And he wanted specific figures, please.
Don't expect Renacci to attempt to self-fund his campaign, a la Trump, although he has lent his campaign money in the past.
Renacci could be vulnerable to questions about doing favors for donors as a congressman. His name surfaced in a 2014 federal trial. The feds said one of his donors, "As Seen on TV" marketer Ben Suarez, conspired in 2011 to circumvent campaign finance limits to shuttle money to Renacci and then-Senate candidate Josh Mandel. Renacci had written a letter on the donor's behalf, but returned the campaign donations after the investigation started. He never was charged. Suarez was acquitted of the campaign finance charges and was convicted only of witness tampering.
In his bid for governor, Renacci will face a name recognition challenge outside of northeast Ohio. Plus, his long business history could open him to attacks related to lawsuits he has faced.
The Cincinnati Enquirere