So What Are The Chances Richard Cordray Runs For Ohio Governor?

Jul 23, 2017

For a guy who refuses to talk about the subject, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray has nearly everybody in Ohio Democratic Party politics expecting him to jump into the 2018 race for governor.

We've always thought Cordray had some extraordinary politics skills, but to create the kind of buzz we have seen in the past week while steadfastly refusing to talk about it is quite a neat trick.

It's not as if the Democrats don't already have some credible candidates for governor in the 2018.

Four of them are running around the state, raising money and raising their profiles – Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, former Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, former state representative Connie Pillich, and former U.S. House member Betty Sutton.

Of course, none of them are an undefeated five-time champion and Tournament of Champions semifinalist on the TV quiz show, Jeopardy !, as Cordray was in 1987. 

Not to say they couldn't be. 

Richard Cordray
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

But Cordray is also someone who has been a statewide candidate three times; and held two statewide offices – state treasurer and attorney general. He is well-known as a great stump speaker; he looks about 20 years younger than a guy born in 1959 should look; and he could probably raise large amounts of money really quickly.

And after two statewide elections (2010 and 2014), in which the Democrats were skunked when it came to the statewide offices, they are desperate to turn that around next year.

Many believe Cordray is just the kind of candidate who could lead them to the promised land.

The fact is, Cordray is in a tough position right now – he can't talk about it. He's in a job that is supposed to be non-political in nature as the first and only director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), an agency created by the Dodd-Frank Act that is there is be the advocate for consumers who have been ripped off by unscrupulous lenders and financial institutions with questionable practices.

So far, he has recovered about $12 billion for about 29 million consumers.

Not a bad thing to run on, if, in fact, you were to be candidate for governor.

He's in a position where much of the Republican leadership in Congress wants him gone; President Trump wants him gone, but right now, he has a term that runs until June 2018. The Trump administration is trying to get the authority to fire him.

Last Wednesday, Cordray joined Ohio's senior senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, on a conference call with Ohio reporters, to talk about a new CFPB rule that would restrict financial institutions' use of "forced arbitration,'' which Brown and Cordray say allows pay-day lenders and banks to deny justice to consumers when those companies engage in illegal behavior.

Here's what Brown had to say:

"Wall Street banks, car title lenders, big corporations have armies of expensive lobbyists,'' Brown said. "We have Rich Cordray."

Sound like a campaign line?

Yes, it does.

But asked if he would endorse Cordray for governor, Brown had nothing to say and the call ended quickly.

Of course, Cordray, who had to leave the conference call early, was hit on by reporters wanting to know if he is planning a run for governor.

"I don't have any comment on that today,'' Cordray said, rather tersely. "I am here to talk about the arbitration rule."

Nonetheless, Cordray and his friends have been dropping hints that he might indeed be out of the CFPB by September and into the race.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O'Neill stirred the pot last week by saying he thinks Cordray is running. O'Neill had said earlier this year that he might jump in himself if he didn't like the field of Democratic gubernatorial candidates

"I was contacted by a mutual friend with Richard Cordray last week and they wanted to be very clear on whether or not my original commitment was still valid,'' O'Neill told Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler. "And that was if Richard Cordray is in the race for governor, I am out of the race for governor. And that is still the case."

All of these Cordray rumors center around September.

September. September. Hmmm...what happens every year in September?

Ah yes, we know – Labor Day, the traditional kick-off of the campaign season.

And, in Cincinnati, at Coney Island on the banks of the Ohio River, the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council holds a massive Labor Day picnic that draws thousands of union members and their families, along with dozens of (mostly) Democratic political candidates.

Would that not be the perfect place for Cordray to launch his campaign for governor?

Pete McLinden, executive secretary-treasurer of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council, told WVXU he talked to Cordray recently about coming to the picnic – Cordray's been there before – but McLinden said he did not talk to him about the governor's race.

He says the labor organization hasn't yet issued invitations to speak to Cordray or anyone else.

"He's a great speaker and a great public servant,'' McLinden said. "He's always welcome at the picnic. If he wants to come here as a candidate for governor or as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, that's up to him."

Tim Burke, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said Cordray called him about a month ago.

The subject of the governor's race came up, Burke said, "but Rich didn't commit to anything."

Burke said he has "no idea" whether or not Cordray plans to return to Ohio and run for governor.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that he does jump into the governor's race. Is it too late, with four candidates having spent months campaigning around the state and raising money?

Kyle Kondik, a political analyst and Ohioan who is managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, which is published by the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said he does not think Cordray's time has passed.

"None of the other contenders have big name I.D.; and I doubt if any of them have assembled big war chests as of yet,'' Kondik said in an email to WVXU.

"That said, it's unclear whether Cordray will clear the field,'' Kondik said. "I can imagine one of the current candidates (Nan Whaley?) ending up as his running mate though."

The other candidates are not likely get out of Cordray's way without a fight.

Cordray would go out looking for support from organized labor, but Sutton – whose father was a union boilermaker – already has endorsements from at least 20 union organizations around the state.

And they will be happy to remind voters that Cordray lost his last race for statewide office. In 2008, he was elected Ohio attorney general to fill out the term of Marc Dann, who had resigned in the middle of a sex scandal. In 2010, though, when he ran for a full term as attorney general, he lost to Republican Mike DeWine – who just happens to be a GOP candidate for governor this year.

"The key challenge for Cordray will be to immediately start posting big fundraising numbers as a way of bullying his opponents out,'' Kondik said.

Right now, Cordray seems focused on preventing Congress from voting down CFPB's new arbitration rule.

Back in Ohio, the fire of speculation about Cordray as a candidate for governor burns on.

Let's see how many logs Cordray and his friends in Ohio throw on the fire in the next month or so.