Analysis: Lt. Gov. Jon Husted wants to drop 'lieutenant' from his title in 2026
Most Ohio voters aren't thinking much about this year's election yet, much less the race for governor in 2026.
Jon Husted, Ohio's lieutenant governor, has to keep his eye on both.
The 56-year-old Republican very much wants to be the next governor of Ohio; and he is clearly the front-runner in a field of three Republicans who are out raising money for the 2026 campaign.
Husted, after raising $1.6 million for his campaign committee in 2023, has $3.3 million in the bank right now.
That's more than Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague, his two rivals for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, have combined.
"There is still a market for competence in politics," Husted said in a Thursday interview. "I know people from every county in the state, from every walk of life; and they have stepped forward enthusiastically for my campaign."
He does have a long and impressive resume from his years in politics — former speaker of the Ohio House, former Ohio secretary of state.
And, for the past five years, playing second banana to Gov. Mike DeWine.
Husted has had a close relationship with DeWine over the past five years. But that relationship hit a bump in the road early this year when the governor vetoed House Bill 68, which prevents transgender health care for those under 18 and bans transgender athletes from playing on female sports teams.
The Republican supermajority in the Ohio House and Senate voted to over-ride DeWine's veto. And in a rare break with his boss, Husted came out in support of House Bill 68 and against DeWine's veto.
Some said it was a sign of Husted putting distance between himself and DeWine, who did not make any friends in the Trump MAGA wing of the Ohio Republican Party with his veto.
Husted insists it was just a difference of opinion.
"This is the only time the governor and I have disagreed in a significant way," Husted said. "I gave him no surprises. We can disagree civilly."
Husted has been yearning for the top spot in state government for years now.
Even to the point that, in 2018, he was one of four Republican candidates in the gubernatorial primary for governor, with DeWine and then-lieutenant governor Mary Taylor.
Husted saw the handwriting on the wall and dropped out of the race, handing over his $4 million campaign fund to DeWine and agreeing to be his running mate.
That was enough to ensure DeWine's primary win, and he and Husted went on to the win in the fall.
The new governor gave his No. 2 man a very important job: handling job creation and economic development.
That turned out to be quite a gift to Husted, because it put him in almost daily contact with the most deep-pocketed business leaders in the state.
Many of them have already contributed to Husted's 2026 campaign, just as they have given money to DeWine over the years.
Husted acknowledges the importance of those business connections, but says his support goes much deeper than that.
"My support in Ohio goes from the river to the lake," Husted said. "And I love my work. It takes me into every corner of the state, dealing with a diverse group of Ohioans."
His work as lieutenant governor, Husted said, "helps you build relationships."
"It's good for public policy but is also good for politics," Husted said.
It is way too early to worry about endorsements for these three GOP governor wanna-be's, but, as always, Donald Trump looms over every Republican contest, particularly in Ohio, where the indicted former president has won twice.
Trump was furious when DeWine vetoed House Bill 68 and unleashed a torrent of abuse on the governor on Trump's social media platform. He called DeWine a "stiff" who was routinely booed by the MAGA crowd when he showed up at Trump's Ohio rallies.
Husted said he talked to Trump "by coincidence" shortly after DeWine vetoed the bill.
"I told him that reasonable people can disagree on issues," Husted said.
Husted said he doesn’t expect Trump to endorse in the race or even campaign in Ohio for himself this year.
At this point, it's hard to say whether or not Trump will be a factor in Ohio or national politics in 2026. As it stands now, Trump could be in any number of situations — including sitting in the White House or sitting in a prison cell.
The term-limited DeWine, for his part, has said very enthusiastically that he supports Husted as his replacement in the governor's office, but it's not known how much he would campaign for him.
This is just political spit-balling on my part, but if DeWine really wants to help Husted he could resign early and let Husted run in 2026 as the incumbent governor.
But there is no sign of that. DeWine likes his job too much.
Husted said he admires and respects the governor and they share common values, but "he'll be him and I'll be me. We're not the same guy."