© 2023 Cincinnati Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Politically Speaking is WVXU Senior Political Analyst Howard Wilkinson's column that examines the world of politics and how it shapes the world around us.

Analysis: Cranley and Whaley had hugs for each other, but gut-punches for DeWine

John Cranley, former mayor of Cincinnati, and Nan Whaley, former mayor of Dayton, shake hands after the Ohio Gubernatorial Democratic Primary Debate at the Paul Robeson Cultural & Performing Arts Center at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio on Tuesday, March 29, 2022. Meg Vogel/Ohio Debate Commission
Meg Vogel
Ohio Debate Commission
John Cranley, former mayor of Cincinnati, and Nan Whaley, former mayor of Dayton, shake hands after the Ohio Gubernatorial Democratic Primary Debate at the Paul Robeson Cultural & Performing Arts Center at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio on Tuesday, March 29, 2022.

Tuesday night's hour-long debate between John Cranley and Nan Whaley, the two Democratic candidates for Ohio governor, didn't create much heat between the two, much less fire.

All the fire was directed at someone who most definitely was not on the stage at Central State University's Paul Robeson Cultural and Performing Arts Center – Ohio's Republican governor and candidate for re-election Mike DeWine.

For a solid hour, the two Democrats who want his job filleted him like a Lake Erie walleye.

Corrupt. Incompetent. Two-faced. Scared of his own shadow. Terrified by the right wing extremists of his political party.

DeWine took a pass on a debate with his Republican primary opponents, Jim Renacci and Joe Blystone, mainly because he didn't feel the need to sit there and take abuse from the right.

Instead, he had to take it from the left in Whaley and Cranley.

The two Democrats landed only light blows on each other during the debate and focused their attention on why DeWine must go and why each of them is the best person to replace him.

These two are longtime friends and political allies, two people who have served simultaneously as mayor of two major Ohio cities – Cranley in Cincinnati, Whaley in Dayton – and who have worked together on many an issue.

It doesn't happen too often in politics these days that people who like each other have to face off as candidates for the same office.

When debate moderator Lucy May of 91.7 WVXU's Cincinnati Edition wrapped up the debate on the campus of Central State University, the two candidates did something you will never see at one of the Ohio Republican debates in this primary season.

Whaley and Cranley hugged each other.

Do you think that you would have seen DeWine and Renacci do that? How about Josh Mandel and Mike Gibbons? Of course not.

Instead of talking about each other, they talked for an hour about their own plans for Ohio and about what they see as the failure of Mike DeWine's first term as governor.

"This primary is about one thing – who is best to beat Mike DeWine," Cranley said.

Both Cranley and Whaley adopted their own themes during the debate, with catch phrases they repeated over and over again.

For Whaley, it was an argument that she makes daily on the campaign trail that "one good job should be enough" for individual Ohioans, even if they live in small towns or rural areas and not the big cities.

"The answer to Ohio's young people can't be that if you want a good job you have to move to Columbus," Whaley said. "Right now, our biggest export is our college graduates."

Cranley repeatedly talked about the "comeback" of Cincinnati that he led in eight years as mayor and, before that, as a city council member.

"Cincinnati had been losing population all of my life; now it is growing," Cranley said. "Ohio needs a comeback, after three decades of corrupt one-party rule. I have a record of getting things done, and that's why Cincinnati is the only comeback city in the state."

Cranley also pushed his agenda of legalizing marijuana, taxing it, and using the money to fund "30,000 good-paying jobs" building roads, installing broadband to underserved areas and creating a "new energy economy."

In nearly every answer he gave Tuesday night, Cranley referred by name to his lieutenant governor running mate, State Sen. Teresa Fedor of Toledo – which surely had something to do with the fact that he is running against a woman for the Democratic nomination and wants to remind voters at every turn that his running mate is a woman.

Whaley, on the other hand, mentioned her running mate – Cuyahoga County Council Member Cheryl Stephens – only once. Whaley has the chance to make history this year as the first woman elected governor of Ohio.

The two Democrats did snipe a bit over the issue of abortion, with Whaley leaving the impression that Cranley was a johnny-come-lately to the pro-choice position, implying that he changed his position to appeal to Democratic primary voters.

"I'm the only candidate who has been pro-choice my entire career," Whaley said. "I'm very excited that Mayor Cranley is with us now. But, with Roe v. Wade about to fall, this is too important an issue to have somebody in the governor's office who just decided he was pro-choice a few months before he began running for governor."

Cranley said that as a life-long Catholic he grew up opposing abortion.

"I started out in a different place on this issue – just like (Democratic Senate candidate) Tim Ryan, just like Joe Biden," Cranley said.

He changed his views while having fertility discussions with his wife Dena.

"During that process, it became obvious to me what my wife was already telling me that government had no role in reproductive decisions."

For the most part, though, the debate was not about the records of the two people on stage, but about what they see as the failings of Mike DeWine.

Both former mayors are clearly furious with DeWine for signing into law "Stand Your Ground" legislation which says a person who feels his or her life is in danger does not have to retreat and for his recent signing of GOP-sponsored legislation doing away with permits and training for those who carry concealed weapons.

Signing the concealed weapons law, Cranley said, "is a stain on the soul of Mike DeWine. He has basically said it is open season on police officers."

Whaley has a particular reason to be infuriated with DeWine on issues of gun control. She feels that she, her city and the entire state were betrayed by the Republican governor. She was mayor of Dayton in August 2019 when a lone gunman killed nine people and wounded 27 others in a matter minutes in Dayton's Oregon entertainment district.

DeWine came to Dayton later that day and, with Whaley, spoke at a vigil for the shooting victims in a nearby park. The crowd began chanting at DeWine: "Do something! Do something!"

What he did was return to Dayton two months later to unveil, with Whaley at his side, a package of gun reforms that he promised to shepherd through the Ohio General Assembly. At the first sign of resistance from the Republicans in the legislature, DeWine caved.

"Never in my worst nightmare did I think that what he would do is make the problem of gun violence worse,'' Whaley said. "In the end, he is too weak to stand up to the radicals in his party."

Both said they believe he has been an active participant in the FirstEnergy/House Bill 6 scandal which has former House Speaker Larry Householder and some GOP operatives facing bribery charges.

"Mike DeWine has been complicit in this whole piece," Whaley said. "He got FirstEnergy to fund his campaign and in return he gave them everything they wanted, including a $1 billion bailout we're paying every single month on our electric bill."

House Bill 6, since repealed, bailed out two failed nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy. DeWine and his appointees to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), Cranley said, did nothing to stop House Bill 6 and were complicit in the corruption.

"On day number one as governor, I would fire all the DeWine appointees to the PUCO," Cranley said.

You can rest assured that Whaley and Cranley will keep pounding on DeWine and his record. The governor can pretty much ignore the fiery rhetoric of this Republican opponents. But, if DeWine wins his primary, there will be no avoiding engaging with either Whaley or Cranley.

Mike DeWine, meet rock and its companion, hard place. You're in between them.

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