COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio voters in both major parties are choosing nominees Tuesday to replace term-limited GOP Gov. John Kasich, capping a primary season in which mainstream candidates tried to fend off challenges from the Republican right and Democratic left.
Republicans will select between Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a former U.S. senator, and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, a former state auditor who’s spent the year distancing herself from Kasich’s administration.
Democratic candidates include Richard Cordray, who served as consumer watchdog under President Barack Obama; former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich; state Sen. Joe Schiavoni; and former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill.
Kucinich has challenged Cordray for supporting gun rights and campaigned to his left on such issues as civil rights and environmental protection. Kucinich has been questioned after receiving a $20,000 speaking fee from a group sympathetic to Syrian President Bashar Assad. He said he plans to return it.
At a polling station Tuesday, Megan Conroy, a 30-year-old doctor at Ohio State University, said she voted for Cordray partly because she approved of his work as head of the Consumer Fraud Protection Bureau.
"Cordray has more of a national footprint and maybe has a better chance of taking on the Republican establishment," she said.
National Democrats see an opportunity in the seat Kasich is vacating. Once the crowded primary concludes, Republicans hope to keep the seat held by the two-term governor and 2016 presidential contender.
But the strikingly nasty Republican primary between DeWine and Taylor has buoyed Democrats’ hopes of facing a damaged candidate for the open seat this fall.
In a $10 million-plus ad war between the campaigns, Taylor, 52, has labeled the former U.S. senator and lieutenant governor "DC DeWine" and painted him as a liberal along he likes of Obama and Hillary Clinton. DeWine, 71, has called Taylor a "phony conservative" who’s unqualified and often was absent from her job.
With support from conservative and Tea Party groups, Taylor pledges to support Republican President Donald Trump’s agenda and to roll back Medicaid expansion. The Kasich administration she currently serves supports the extended insurance benefits, which were made an option for states under the federal health care law. DeWine, the party’s endorsed candidate, has walked a more careful line on Trump in anticipation of needing to win a statewide election in politically divided Ohio in November.
DeWine’s approach struck a positive chord with Republican voter Matthew Charnas, who said he was looking for "independent-minded" Republicans who didn’t model themselves after Trump.
"I feel like the national narrative has been very hate filled, so I was looking for someone giving a more positive message," said Charnas, 34, who works in logistics management.
Republican voters Tuesday are also choosing a Republican nominee to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown in the fall.
Polls are open until 7:30 p.m.