Angry wife. Nasty memes. GOP hits low road in Ohio governor's race

Frank Luntz emphasized questions about civility while the famed Republican pollster moderated an Ohio GOP gubernatorial forum at a suburban Columbus church on Sunday night.

So much for that.

Minutes after the values-focused forum ended, the bitter battle between Secretary of State Jon Husted and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci took another turn for the worse out in the church lobby. That's where Renacci's wife, Tina Renacci, approached Husted and sternly let him know she doesn't like the type of campaign he's running, two witnesses told Politics Extra on Monday.

Both campaigns confirmed to PX that Tina Renacci approached Husted in the Genoa Church lobby. Husted's campaign had no further comment.

Here's Renacci's side of the story, according to campaign spokesman James Slepian:

"On Sunday evening, after hearing Jon Husted publicly declare that he has been running a clean campaign, Jim’s wife, Tina, later approached Jon Husted and asked if she could speak with him about the dirty and dishonest attacks he’s been engaged in for months. In front of witnesses, Husted responded by abruptly threatening Tina Renacci, at which point she walked away. Our campaign is still awaiting a formal apology from Jon Husted for his conduct towards Mrs. Renacci."

PX's sources confirmed that Mrs. Renacci told Husted she thought he was running a dirty campaign. There were no physical threats made from either side, nor was anyone shouting, sources said.

Husted had been talking to members of Ohio University's College Republicans, and told Mrs. Renacci that wasn't the time or place to have such a discussion, according to sources.

OH, BUT THERE'S MORE: These days, there can't be a Renacci-Husted squabble without Delhi Township's Linda Caudill seemingly being in the middle of it.

The Renacci campaign volunteer walked up to Husted alongside Mrs. Renacci, and Caudill also gave Husted a piece of her mind about how he's running his campaign, according to the sources.

Husted's campaign confirmed Caudill did approach him. Renacci's campaign said nothing about Caudill's presence on Sunday night.

NO ROOM TO TALK: Caudill has been aggressively trolling Husted on social media in recent weeks. It's put the avid Trump supporter in headlines from here to Cleveland.

PX reported last month about Caudill sabotaging a personal Facebook post a former Husted staffer made about her dead grandmother. Caudill littered the comments section with memes attacking Husted.

Caudill, who claimed to have led Trump's campaign in Hamilton County last year, was back to posting anti-Husted memes again last week. This time, she was slinging the mud on her own Facebook page.

Here's what Cleveland.com's Seth A. Richardson reported on Monday:

The meme Caudill shared shows a man bound to a chair with rope. Husted's face is edited into the picture with duct tape over his mouth. The accompanying text reads, "A Silencer is a good thing when used properly."

Caudill is not a paid campaign staffer, but she is officially one of Renacci's county leaders. The campaign continues to stand by her, and said she'll remain on the team.

"Linda is a campaign volunteer and her personal Facebook posts are her own – they do not speak for the campaign," Slepian said. "Nevertheless, when the campaign learned that she had shared this particular meme that we felt was inappropriate, we asked her to take it down and she did so immediately."

Hamilton County GOP Chairman Alex Triantafilou condemned Caudill's social media posts.

Said Triantafilou: "I spoke with the leadership of Rep. Renacci's campaign. She is not a member of that team. She is a volunteer who has a reputation for very poor judgment on social media. Her conduct is not reflective of Congressman Renacci or the Republican Party."

PLAY NICE, Y'ALL: Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values hosted the forum in Westerville, the first for candidates Mike DeWine, Mary Taylor, Husted and Renacci ahead of the 2018 GOP primary. Luntz focused his questions on topics such as faith in God and civility toward fellow politicians.

How can voters trust you will run a civil campaign?

The question was posed to each candidate, who took the stage one-by-one. Luntz, the Fox News contributor, did his homework because he pressed Husted and Renacci more on the issue. They have been engaged in a tit-for-tat since August, when the pro-Husted super PAC Ohio Conservatives for a Change launched a social media ad criticizing Renacci for wanting to get rid of drug education for children.

At its core, the battle is over who can win Trump's supporters. Renacci believes he's the candidate most aligned with Trump. Meanwhile, Husted has been aggressively pushing a conservative agenda.

Renacci was asked about an ad he launched last month that called his three opponents "Columbus fat cats." Actors depicted Husted, Taylor and DeWine as cats in the 30-second spot. Renacci said the ad was more to help him build name ID.

Luntz then asked if the ad was setting a tone for his campaign.

"The fire first came at me," Renacci said. "And in politics, you can't just sit back. You respond accordingly."

Husted was the last to take the stage, and here's how he answered the question about civility:

"I consider all of these folks who are running for governor friends. I respect them. We need to have a vigorous debate, but we’re not going to take the low road. My reputation means more to me than being governor, and I’m not going to do something that would jeopardize that."

Minutes later, Mrs. Renacci and Caudill were confronting Husted, the sources said.

Just think, only seven more months until the primary.

Politics Extra is a column looking inside Greater Cincinnati and Ohio politics. 

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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