COLUMBUS - Ten years ago, the treasurer of Ohio bucked the state's Democratic leaders and backed a freshman Illinois senator's campaign for president.
That treasurer became attorney general, then got a federal post when that senator became president. Now, Richard Cordray is the Democratic nominee for governor, hoping to campaign with the backing of former President Barack Obama.
Two years ago, Ohio's attorney general endorsed a New York businessman running for president. Then he decided to keep his endorsement in place when a tape surfaced in which the man joked about sexual assault. No one thought the New Yorker would win, anyway. Well, he did.
Now, Mike DeWine is the Republican nominee for governor. He hasn't campaigned with President Donald Trump, but he has said he's open to it. On Wednesday, he thanked the president for a tweet that congratulated him – although one that messed up the capitalization in his last name and said DeWine was focused on issues that aren't exactly the issues DeWine is focused on.
It's unclear whether Obama and Trump will campaign in Ohio for the governor's race. Those appearances would come in the fall, and a lot can change before then.
What is clear: Ohio put both Obama and Trump in the White House. At least some of their voters later changed their minds.
For DeWine, 'Trumpy-ness is not transferable'
DeWine's struggle in the GOP primary: campaign conservatively enough to win the nomination, while avoiding changes to major platform positions. Those include some moderate stances, such as on gun rights. (When he needed to emphasize conservatism, he talked about how much he opposes abortion rights or called into question what he'll do with Medicaid expansion.)
That meant DeWine had to talk about Trump, probably more than he wanted to. His opponent, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, pressured him by linking herself to Trump at every turn.
When he wasn't attacking Taylor, DeWine tried mostly to talk about himself and his issues, rather than imitating Trump. He is, after all, one of the most recognized names in Ohio politics. He stuck with that plan Tuesday when he won the nomination, urging "Republicans, Democrats, independents" to "come with us."
Even if it were helpful for DeWine to imitate Trump, that hasn't worked for some Republicans. (See also: the failed gubernatorial campaign of Taylor and the losing congressional campaigns of Melanie Leneghan and Christina Hagan in central and northeast Ohio.)
As David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, put it Wednesday: “Trumpy-ness is not transferable.”
Many of Trump's supporters did rally behind Taylor and against DeWine, whom they view as too moderate and too muted in his support for Trump. So it was helpful for Trump to tweet in support of DeWine Wednesday morning. The tweet reached a different crowd than DeWine had been engaging.
Should DeWine appear with Trump this November? It's likely that Trump will come to Ohio, regardless of whether DeWine wants him to. U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci is running for Senate as a Trumpian candidate, and he's likely to ask Trump to visit Ohio to help him rally working-class voters.
"Trump's approval is, I think, neutral at best in Ohio," said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of "Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball," a leading political forecasting newsletter. Major public polls haven't tested Trump's approval levels in Ohio recently, but the minor polls that have put it at about 50 percent.
Cordray's longtime ties to Obama
Cordray, likewise, has some strategic reasons to want to campaign with Obama. He wants to win African-American voters who backed Obama but stayed home in 2016.
He also wants Trump's blue-collar voters – many of whom voted for Obama, then soured on him, and shunned Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Because of the anti-Washington sentiment percolating across Ohio, Cordray has often sought to focus on the Buckeye State, period. Campaigning with Obama wouldn't help with that. "Cordray just spent (six) years in Washington" as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said Anthony Massa, a Miami University student who campaigned for DeWine.
Obama's popularity in Ohio diminished after 2012. What are Obama's popularity figures now in the Buckeye State?
"My sense is, if they're positive, they're not much different than Trump's," Kondik said. Polls haven't measured Obama's popularity in Ohio recently.
In the end, Cordray actually likes Obama. In debates, he touted his name proudly. So he's likely to campaign with Obama if the former president offers to come to Ohio.
Enquirer reporter Jessie Balmert contributed.