In my post-election column, I stated that Nan Whaley, the Democratic nominee for Ohio governor, had 1 chance out of 10 of defeating incumbent Gov. Mike DeWine in the general election Nov. 8.

It might be worse than that. Morning Consult recently reported that DeWine has an astounding +28 percent approval rating, the tenth best among governors in the country. This reflects what I wrote, that DeWine is very popular with Democrats and Independents. Enough so as to overcome the fact that only 48 percent, less than half of the Republicans who voted in the primary, picked DeWine.

All this is bad news for Whaley as now she must work tirelessly to get many Democrats to return to the fold. She cannot win unless nearly all the Democrats vote for her. Simultaneously, she must woo Independents and open-minded Republicans to come her way. She already has an uphill climb as the political website says that Ohio's partisan index is +12 percent GOP. That is even worse than the 8 percent wins that Donald Trump racked up in the 2016 and 2020 elections in the Buckeye State. Small wonder that political rating services consider Ohio's U.S. Senate race between U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Youngstown and J.D. Vance as "likely Republican." I imagine the rating of the Whaley-DeWine race will be "damn sure Republican."

Nonetheless, I think that Whaley has a chance to pull off the upset. What follows is my take on how to beat DeWine.


Election after election show that Ohio voters are evolutionary not revolutionary. We tend to support familiar names and faces in statewide races. We tend to not elect candidates the first time he or she is on the statewide ballot. We tend to re-elect incumbents.

What does this mean to Whaley? She must make an incredibly powerful case that that DeWine has let the public down, has violated his oath of office, has allowed corruption to run rampant, has favored the powerful over the powerless and cannot be trusted to govern in the citizenry's best interests for the next four years.


One of the mistakes Democrats often make while running for office is to believe that they are occupying the higher ground and have moral, emotional and intellectual superiority to their opponents. Democrats tend to think that the public only needs to be reminded of their Republican opponent's shortcomings in order to come the Democrat's way.

What does this mean to Whaley? She must assume that the public is unaware of her opponent's shortcomings and thus she must beat the drum of criticism, repeating the charges again and again. She needs a clever television ad that shows DeWine literally and figuratively driving a bus labeled Ohio into the ditch of illegality and unethical behavior. And she needs millions of dollars to bombard the airwaves with this message on broadcast television and on cable networks. She needs Sherrod Brown do to TV ads for her like he did in the primary. We all remember the Republican fake newscast ad that the then Gov. Ted Strickland bankrupted the state. It crushed Strickland in both his re-election campaign and his failed race for the U.S. Senate.


Candidates sometimes think that their early life, their personal life and their performance in office are somewhere between off limits and not subject to intense scrutiny. No so. It all feeds into a concept we call public image. It is what the general public thinks of the candidates and it may or may not be accurate. We develop impressions of statewide politicians based mostly on our exposure to them on television and social media.

What does this mean to Whaley? It means that she is under a gigantic microscope. Allies of DeWine and the Ohio Republican Party have been digging into Whaley's past since she announced her candidacy for governor a year ago. In a secure area, they have compiled what they believe is "dirt" about her personal and political life. They probably already are producing TV ads designed to vilify her and render her as damaged goods to the public, such as they did to Strickland. Politics is a mean business. DeWine will go to great lengths to hold onto his job in what is likely the 75-year-old's last run for office. He wants to go out a winner and will leave no stone unturned toward that end. Whaley must immediately and forcefully -- with a major TV ad buy -- respond to all criticism from DeWine and his allies. Strickland did not think the fake news ads about his administration were worth refuting. It cost him the governorship.


Kissing babies, eating cotton candy on the midway of county fairs, marching in a Labor Day Parade, handing out your spouse's cookbook at county fairs and having folks to the farm for an ice cream social. These are among the ways that statewide politicians endear themselves to voters. You have recognized that the latter two -- cookbooks and ice cream -- are what Mike and Fran DeWine have been doing for decades. An out of state political consultant would look askance as such blatant cuddling up to the public. (I do not consider it a good omen that Whaley's new campaign manager Brian Sowyrda appears to have zero connections to and experience in the Buckeye State.)  DeWine has lost only one election in four decades on the ballot. Ohio voters like the folksy stuff that people on the East and West Coasts would find infantile. It has been alleged that DeWine and other GOP state officeholders slip into a southern Ohio accent when campaigning south of Interstate 70. Our nation's capitol is pronounced "Warshington" in Appalachia and the name of our state is "O-hi-ya" in case you did not know.

What does this mean to Whaley? It means don't bother with her own cookbook and ordering tubs of ice cream. There is no way she can make up for the thousands of people that the DeWines have cozied up to over the years. She should not try. What is means is that Whaley must blow the roof off of DeWine the politician is such as way that his "fans" decide that, yes, it was a lovely cookbook and a fabulous ice cream social, but no, you have messed up too much as governor and we are voting against you this time, even though we may still like you a bit. And will you still be having that social once you are out of office?


J.D. Vance's sugar daddy Peter Thiel put $15 million into a campaign committee that helped Vance win the Senatorial primary. Even though the pundits want to credit the Donald Trump endorsement for his victory, I say that the early infusion of big out-of-state bucks was the biggest factor. In October of 2018, Mike DeWine was neck and neck with his Democratic opponent Richard Cordray. Multimillionaire DeWine decided to loan his campaign $3 million to make sure it had enough money for TV advertising down the home stretch. It paid off and he won by 3 percent. Cordray did not have that kind of personal wealth and it may have cost him the governorship. (Remember Cordray's campaign manager knew little about Ohio coming in and castigated the state's voters and politics in a bitter rejoinder after Cordray lost?)

What does this mean to Whaley? It means get your hands on $50 million, including independent committees, or prepare for civilian life in Dayton in January 2023. Whaley needs a sugar daddy or a sugar mommy in the worst sort of way, especially now when fund-raising will be difficult as DeWine is so far ahead that traditional Ohio Democratic donors will decline to put good money after bad. What Whaley desperately needs -- NOW-- is millions of dollars coming to her aid to change the story line from she does not have a chance to hey, maybe, she does have a chance thanks to a billionaire writing a $10 million check. Whaley is a bit of a female folk hero, having become the first female nominee of a major party for Ohio governor. There are wealthy feminists of both genders out there who would not miss $10,000,000. Whaley needs to invite them to tea and win them over. Otherwise, prepare for DeWine to have his way and run up a landslide on Nov. 8.


Crazy things happen in political campaigns and these are especially crazy times. Whaley got a break when the U.S. Supreme Court draft decision impaling women's reproductive rights came down the day before the primary. It brought more Democratic women to the polls May 3 and probably sent some late deciders Whaley's way. I still think she would have won, but by a lesser margin, absent that leak. 70 percent of the country is in favor of legal abortions in the early days of a pregnancy. This could turn into a wave of female and male voters ready to vote out the supporters of the court decision, such as DeWine. Or people could vote on other issues such as inflation, the economy, the Ukraine war and President Biden's popularity (currently low). Nobody knows, but rest assured that DeWine and his allies are up late at night trying to anticipate all developments and develop responses to save his bacon. DeWine is well known for adjusting his public positions for political reasons.

What does this mean to Whaley? She has got to assemble a "war room" that operates 24 hours a day, monitoring news coverage and social networks for developments that might affect her candidacy and coming up with responses that strengthen her candidacy and attacks that weaken DeWine's. Further, she needs a TV ad making apparatus that can quickly get commercials on the air defending her, stating her positions and taking out DeWine. An unexpected conviction, an unanticipated guilty plea and a public admission of wrongdoing by one of the principals in the First Energy/Larry Householder scandal could turn the election upside down.


Donald Trump wants to win a "third term" in 2024 and is counting on Ohio to go for him a third time. He played kingmaker at a rally for Vance in Delaware County. He'll be back before Nov. 8 to pitch for Vance, favored Congressional candidates like coup-plotter U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, whose new district includes western Delaware County, and to plug for other favorites running for Congress. He'll throw another big flipping rally that will dominate the media and social networks for two days.

What does this mean to Whaley? She and what is left of the Ohio Democratic Party have got to counterprogram Trump in the future. They must set up a rally across the street, bring in big name Democrats and draw a big crowd. Of course, Whaley gets a prime speaking slot as does Democrat Senatorial nominee U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan. To the best of my knowledge, only Beto O'Rourke, now running for governor of Texas, has mounted a successful Trump counterpunch rally. Time to let the air out of the big orange balloon.


The national Democratic Party is most exemplified by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When Republicans in Ohio are threatened, they haul out TV ads and color postcards demonizing Democratic candidates by putting their pictures next to Pelosi and AOC. Why? Because the latter are too radical for the typical Ohio voter, including moderate Democrats.

What does this mean to Whaley? She must hold onto the more liberal Democrats in Ohio while figuring out how to relate to the moderate Democrats. Tim Ryan is doing a pretty good job of attracting the middle in his Senate campaign. This approach is the key to Sherrod Brown's success in Ohio. Remember, Ohioans are evolutionary not revolutionary.


The mere fact that Republicans have had a stranglehold on Ohio politics for three decades tends to cause the journalists who cover politics to develop a slight bias in favor of the GOP because who wants to investigate DeWine and company too aggressively and then find them in power for another four years. Journalists need access to get good stories. DeWine and company will deny access to those scribes who get too close to the corruption flame.

What does this mean to Whaley? She cannot depend on or expect journalists and the newspapers, websites and TV outlets for which they work to consistently raise issues that will turn voters against DeWine and company. Only a bombardment of negative TV ads will bring DeWine and company to their knees and send them packing Nov. 8.


The first thing political advisers used to tell candidates was to go out and knock on doors. Nowadays advisers say get on social networks like Facebook and Twitter to win voters hearts. While house-to-house campaigning can make a small dent in a candidate's favor and while "I'm excited to be running ..." Facebook posts can up name recognition and win a few folks over, neither way can make enough of a dent to affect the outcome of most campaigns these days. Why? Because only the interested voters are paying attention. Most voters are not interested in politics and only vote because they see it as their public duty. Again I must repeat, a TV ad barrage is how you reach the uninterested.

What does this mean to Whaley? Find the angels with big checkbooks who would like to help you become Ohio's first female elected governor. Or return to private life on Nov. 9.


Even the best laid DeWine campaign plans can be overwhelmed by an issues or a series of related issues. We know that DeWine will traveling around the state giving away money to local communities and announcing state investments in popular local projects. He will make two or three announcements every day through Nov. 8 targeted at each of the 88 counties and the more populated areas within those counties. Former Gov. James Rhodes was a master of targeted campaigning by announcement after announcement to the locals.

What does this mean to Whaley? Be on high alert for the emergence of a transcendent issue to use against DeWine that will overwhelm all the little things (cookbooks, community announcements, etc.) that he is putting in place to gain re-election. In 2006, it was Coingate -- investing state money in rare coins that turned the public against the Republicans -- that Ted Strickland rode to the governorship.


The gubernatorial debates did not amount to squat in 2018. I attended the one in Marietta. DeWine was better prepared. He moved forward when he spoke and looked at the camera. His appearance was designed to look good on TV. He might have added a little southern Ohio accent in a tip to the locals. Cordray was lackluster in his appearance and presentation. The TV audience was small for this and the other couple of debates. While debates are a wonderful civic concept, only the Presidentials seem to have any impact these days. We remember how hard Trump tried to get Biden's temper to explode in the first debate ... unsuccessfully.

What does this mean to Whaley? It means do not cling to the idea that you will turn the voters in your favor in the debates. Whaley is better on television that Cordray. The camera is friendly to her. She will hold her own against DeWine, but her time is better spent raising the $50 million she needs to bury DeWine in a barrage of TV ads and social network posts that show DeWine driving the bus Ohio into the Corruption Ditch. It is the only way she can win ... barring the unexpected.

(Ideas and approaches found in the above article were borrowed liberally and with my thanks from Mark Halperin's How To Beat Trump, Catherine Shaw's The Campaign Manager, and LEAD Ohio's Campaign Guidebook.)

(Please send your comments and suggestions for future columns to John K. Hartman,  

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