Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley is running for governor, hoping to leverage her experience as a city executive in a Democratic field crowded with lawmakers.
Whaley, 41, becomes the fourth prominent Democrat to enter the gubernatorial race. Ohio Sen. Joe Schiavoni of greater Youngstown, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of greater Akron and former state Rep. Connie Pillich of Montgomery also are running. Four Republicans are expected to run, too.
Like the other Democrats in the race, Whaley will seek to recapture the working-class voters who backed President Donald Trump in the November election, starting with her experience as a mayor in the quintessential blue-collar town. Republicans in the Statehouse have abandoned everyday Ohioans, she said.
"They are frustrated and angry. I think you see that in the last election. And I think they are angry at the state as well, because the state just hasn't been getting it done," she said in an interview.
The Enquirer breaks down Whaley's chances of emerging from the Democratic field.
That mayor stuff? It matters.
At first glance, Whaley's job as mayor might seem like a hindrance – or at least an awkward situation.
Here's why: In addition to running for governor, she is running for re-election as Dayton's mayor in 2017. Although she has no opposition in that election, she must seek to navigate two races simultaneously, plus her day job as mayor. If she succeeds, she will leave her second term as mayor after one year.
But Whaley's job as mayor can give her an advantage over some of her Democratic opponents. As mayor, Whaley has accomplishments to list and a resume that shows how she leads as a government executive. For instance, she highlights providing preschool for 4-year-olds via an income tax increase and fighting the heroin epidemic through a needle-exchange program and overdose-reversing drugs.
Her Democratic competitors in the race are all legislators. Two of them, Schiavoni and Pillich, served in the Statehouse when Democrats were in the minority and had difficulty passing bills. Sutton can claim as an accomplishment her championship of the Cash for Clunkers auto trade-in program during the recession, but that was nearly a decade ago.
(Sutton's campaign, in a memo to supporters, this week talked about her "executive" experience running the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, which oversees waterways between Montreal and Lake Erie. That's a fair characterization of the role, but the job is more difficult for voters to grasp than Whaley's job as mayor.)
Whaley lacks a national fundraising network and statewide name recognition.
All of the Democrats running for governor need to boost their name identification among voters. Only Pillich has run statewide before, albeit unsuccessfully and for the lower-profile position of state treasurer.
To get their name out, the candidates need money. As a local candidate, Whaley hasn't had to raise the millions required for a statewide campaign. Her campaign fund had $148,000 in it as of Jan. 31, according to a filing with the Montgomery County Board of Elections. That's money she can use to kickstart her campaign for governor, as long as donors followed state limits.
To compare, Pillich had three times as much at that point. And Sutton had a national fundraising network for her congressional races that she could tap again.
Whaley's connections as mayor could help her raise her name ID. Her leadership and relationship with Ohio mayors, such as with the Ohio Mayors Alliance, could land her some endorsements from mayors, and news coverage, around the state. For fundraising, she could tap into relationships she has with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, where she passed a resolution in favor of making opioid drug companies pay for treatment costs related to the heroin epidemic.
She also considers U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown a "mentor" and could tap some of his network, although she insists he is staying out of the gubernatorial primary to focus on his own race for U.S. Senate.