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0000017a-3b40-d913-abfe-bf44a4f90000Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU news team as the politics reporter and columnist in April 2012 , after 30 years of covering local, state and national politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. On this page, you will find his weekly column, Politically Speaking; the Monday morning political chats with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik and other news coverage by Wilkinson. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nominating conventions. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots, the Lucasville prison riot in 1993, the Air Canada plane crash at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983, and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. And, given his passion for baseball, you might even find some stories about the Cincinnati Reds here from time to time.

Gun Control Takes Center Stage In Ohio Democratic Primary

The Democratic primary for governor in Ohio could well boil down to where the candidates stand and what kind of record they have on gun control.

It's reasonable to believe  the vast majority of Democratic primary voters, in the wake of cold-blooded murder of 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, are enraged over the easy access to semi-automatic weapons and are solidly behind the nationwide movement of high school students marching and lobbying for gun control.

Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
Richard Cordray

If that is the case, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who started his campaign as the undeniable front-runner for the Democratic nomination, may have reason to be concerned.

He's still carrying an albatross around his neck - that A rating given to him by the National Rifle Association (NRA) back in 2010 when he was running for a full term as attorney general.

We'd be willing to wager that when former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray came back from a seven-year stint in Washington to run for governor, he hadn't counted on the kind of firestorm he's in the middle of now.

The rest of the field was made up mostly of candidates little known outside the comfy confines of their respective corners of Ohio – people like former state representative Connie Pillich of Montgomery, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former congresswoman Betty Sutton and State Sen. Joe Schiavoni.

A few months later, all but Schiavoni are gone from the race. Sutton jumped on board and became his running mate for lieutenant governor.

Now, his principal opponent appears to be a man who has developed a reputation as one of the true gad-flies of American politics, but, who, in this case, has to be taken seriously – former Cleveland mayor and congressman Dennis Kucinich.

We've known as a lot of politicians over the years – enough to fill a medium-sized city – and we haven't run across many as eccentric and unpredictable as Kucinich.

Many people laughed when he entered the Ohio governor's race, but they're not laughing now.

A poll done by Survey USA for Cleveland 19 News last week had Cordray and Kucinich in a dead heat at 21 percentage points each, with a huge number of undecided voters.

And why is the man many think of as Dennis the Menace dead even with a buttoned-down establishment candidate like Cordray?

One word: Guns.

Gun control is quickly becoming the defining issue of the campaign; and Cordray appears to be on the wrong side of it, while Kucinich is marching right in line with majority opinion among Ohio's Democratic primary voters.

Cordray opposes banning the sale of semi-automatic weapons; Kucinich favors it.

Even Cordray's running mate is on Kucinich's side on this one.

"I have stood for an assault weapons ban,'' Sutton told the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Democratic Club last week. "My running mate believes that the semi-automatic weapon should be for legal ownership by those who play by the rules and follow the laws.

"Rich and I do have a difference of opinion on this; and I think having a difference of opinion on a team is not a bad thing,'' Sutton said.

It is not as if Cordray has no interest in any gun control measure. He favors universal background checks and a ban on "bump stocks," which allow rifles to fire like machine guns. He also wants to see more school safety measures.

But Kucinich is wont to remind campaign audiences that, as Ohio attorney general, Cordray fought in court to keep cities from enacting their own gun control laws – one of the reasons he had an A rating from the NRA.

"Opposing an assault weapons ban is sort of a disqualifying issue for a lot of Democratic voters,'' said David Niven, assistant professor of American politics at the University of Cincinnati.

"Cordray is sort of like an Ichabod Crane figure – you wake up and find that the party has left you behind,'' Niven said.

Can Kucinich win the primary?

Yes, without question, said Niven. But he doesn't think he will.

"In the end, I think Cordray wins, but with six candidates on the ballot, it's going to be a terribly split vote,'' Niven said. "And that's not really what you want as a Democrat going into a general election."

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.