Ohio Governor's Race: GOP Fundraising Huge; Democrats, Not So Much

Aug 6, 2017

We hope you are sitting down while reading this, because this is astounding news:

Republicans running for governor in Ohio have more money than Democrats running for governor. Way more.

Oh, you figured that was the case, given the fact that the Republicans have had a vise grip on state government since 2010?

Well, maybe it's not so astounding.

But when you look at the raw numbers they are rather striking.

Right now, there are four declared candidates on the GOP side – Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor. And there are, at the moment anyway, four Democrats – former state representative Connie Pillich of Hamilton County, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former U.S. Representative Betty Sutton and former Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni.

Campaign finance reports show that, as of July 31, the four Republicans had a total of nearly $13.8 million in the bank.

The Democrats, on the other hand, had $1,570,119 in the bank.

That's a Grand Canyon-type gap.

John C. Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, is not surprised a bit that the Republicans are in high-gear when it comes to raising money for 2018.

"It's been long known that there was this epic battle among the Republicans coming in 2018,'' Green said. "You have all of these statewide Republican officeholders being term-limited out at the same time; and all of them want to move up."

And, Green said, it's a fact that the Republicans have a deeper bench of well-known candidates in Ohio than the Democrats.

Among the Democrats, Pillich leads with cash on hand of $720,526. She's the only Democrat who has run for statewide office before, losing the 2014 state treasurer's race to GOP incumbent Josh Mandel; and has a very good fundraising network.

"Connie is a very strong fundraiser,'' said Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper. "She does what a lot of candidates don't like to do – pick up the phone and call people for hours on end, asking for contributions.

Whaley, the Dayton mayor running for re-election this year without opposition, has time to travel the state and raise money; she ended up with $394,662 in the bank. Schiavoni has $245,251, while Sutton brings up the rear with $209,680 in the bank.

Here's the one thing that some of the Republican candidates can do that the Democrats can't – lend their campaigns millions of dollars because they are multi-millionaires who can afford it.

Renacci, a very successful businessman from Medina County before he went to Congress, wrote his campaign a check for $4 million from his personal fortune. Because of that, he is sitting with nearly $4.38 million in his campaign account too.

DeWine, who is in his fifth decade in Ohio politics, has a bundle of money too – he lent his campaign $1 million; and now has $4.674 million cash on hand.

Taylor did well raising money on her own in the first half of 2017, but has only a shade under $437,000 in the bank.

Husted is the champion when he it comes to raising money on his own – he raised a little over $2 million from January to July, and ended the period with $4.277 million in his campaign fund.

Pepper has his own theory about why the Republicans are raising so much more money than Democrats.

"The Republicans are gearing up for an epic battle in the primary next spring,'' Pepper said. "Democratic donors are holding back because they like all of these candidates and they don't want to see their money spent going after other Democrats."

Democratic donors are also waiting to see if former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray, now the director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is on the verge of leaving that job early and coming back to run for governor.

There are a whole lot of Democrats who think Cordray, who has been elected both state treasurer and attorney general, is the strongest potential candidate they have – even though he lost his last race, a close affair in 2010 in which DeWine ousted him as attorney general.

Cordray is in a position where he can't talk about partisan politics. He falls under the Hatch Act, a federal law prohibiting most federal employees from engaging in politics.

Cordray has been under attack lately from the Republican Governors Association (RGA), which claims he has been contacting Ohio Democratic leaders and organizations about the 2018 race. The RGA has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Cordray's official emails and cell phone records, asking for documentation of any emails or phone calls he made to a long list of Democratic Party officials and organizations.

In other words, the RGA is a tad worried that Cordray will come back and jump into the race.

Pepper said he think that a lot of Democratic donors "are waiting to see what Rich is going to do."

Mark Weaver, a long-time Republican campaign strategist, said he agrees with Pepper's analysis, but he says the Republicans "simply have a deeper bench of candidates than the Democrats. These people have run for statewide office before and know how to raise money."

"The Republicans have a bunch of all-star players, some of them sitting on the bench,'' Weaver said. "The Democrats have a lot of minor leaguers trying to play major league baseball. So, of course the Republicans have the advantage."

Weaver thinks that if Cordray gets into the race, one of the current Democratic candidate might end up as his running mate for lieutenant governor and others may move to down-ticket statewide races.

Green said he agrees.

"I don't think there is any question that if Cordray gets in, he becomes the front-runner,'' Green said.

Green said there will be a winnowing-out process on both sides, probably by the end of the year.

"I would expect that, in the end, there will be two candidates on each side in the primary,'' Green said.

In the meantime, though, the candidates on both sides will continue to scramble for as much money as they can get.

"We don't have to raise as much money as they have,'' Pepper said. "We just need enough to get out message out."

But make no mistake – in the end, tens of millions of dollars will be spent to elect Ohio's next governor.