COLUMBUS - Former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton – no stranger to close, bitterly fought political races – may face her toughest yet in 2018: a run for Ohio governor.
Sutton, 53, plans to announce Tuesday she will join the Ohio Senate's top Democrat, Joe Schiavoni of greater Youngstown, in the party's primary for governor. In doing so, she instantly became the Democratic front-runner in a two-person race, although others may join the field.
What does Sutton, of Summit County's Copley Township, bring to the race?
1. Who is Sutton?
Anyone who isn't Mike DeWine, Ohio's attorney general and the likely GOP front-runner for governor, is going to face challenges with name recognition in the Ohio governor's race next year. Sutton is no exception.
Sutton's most recent position as administrator of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation provided few opportunities to make headlines. She served in that role, which included overseeing the seaway between Montreal and Lake Erie, from 2013 until earlier this year.
Perhaps Sutton's best-known program in Congress was Cash for Clunkers, a recession-era stimulus for the auto industry that gave drivers up to $4,500 to trade in their vehicle and buy a more fuel-efficient new one. But will Ohio voters remember she championed the popular program in 2009? Probably not.
2. No statewide experience
If Sutton wins the Democratic primary, she would face either a Republican with years of statewide experience or U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, who ousted her from Congress in 2012. Renacci had a huge advantage in that race: Republicans had redrawn the district to their advantage. Still, you would expect the defeat to loom over any rematch.
Sutton isn't alone in her inexperience statewide. Few Democrats mulling a gubernatorial run have served all of Ohio.
A Republican opponent could harp on that missing piece on her resume, but Democrats could pitch it as an advantage. The Columbus outsider? The change candidate who isn't beholden to the establishment's status quo? That message worked well for President Donald Trump.
For too long, Sutton told The Enquirer Monday, Ohio's politicians have focused on helping the most powerful.
"It’s time to change priorities in Ohio. We need to focus on creating jobs for working families, rather than focusing on giving tax breaks to the most privileged in our society," she said. "I will be a governor who understands that everyone across our state matters."
1. Alumna of tough races
Sutton's experience fighting against attack ads and raising money in tight races would serve her well in a statewide brawl, Democrats say.
In 2012, Sutton lost to Renacci by 4 percentage points in a district drawn to favor Republicans and remove Sutton from Congress. Trump won that district, which includes western suburbs of Cleveland, areas east of Akron and Wooster, by 16.6 percentage points last year. (That was more than double his margin of victory statewide.)
In 2010, Sutton was targeted by a Medina County GOP mailer that read: "Take Betty Sutton out of the House and put her back in the kitchen." Nevertheless, she won in a rough year for Democrats.
Sutton even faced a challenging primary in her first run for Congress to fill the seat vacated by Sherrod Brown, who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006.
2. National donors know her
While the average Ohio voter might not know Sutton, Democrats on the national level do – the kind of Democrats who might open their pocketbook to donate to a gubernatorial campaign.
Sutton was a favorite of EMILY's List, the national abortion rights' group. She raised $2.5 million in her 2012 race against Renacci from groups like the League of Conservation Voters and United Steelworkers.
For comparison, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, who recently announced he wouldn't run for governor, typically raises about $1 million for his congressional races.
Chrissie Thompson contributed to this report.