COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — “If you want a safe and prosperous future for Ohio,” Donald Trump told a cheering crowd of supporters, “vote for Mike DeWine.”
DeWine walked up on stage, shook Trump’s hand, and smiled as he thanked him for his endorsement and stressed the importance of the upcoming election: “This race is about whether we go back or whether we go forward.”
That was Nov. 5, 2018.
Trump came to Cleveland then, just one day before the last midterm election, stumping for Ohio candidates including DeWine, who was trying to win a first term as governor.
Four years later, Trump came to Ohio 10 days before a primary election for which he endorsed in Republican contests for U.S. Senate, Congress, even secretary of state and auditor. But in a 90-minute speech at the Delaware County Fairgrounds, the former president bashed DeWine but was silent about the governor’s race, a contested primary where DeWine faces two legitimate challengers.
Why no endorsement?
Although Trump endorsed DeWine in the last governor’s race, and DeWine supported Trump in both presidential contests, the two have not always seen eye-to-eye.
While telling the Delaware crowd Saturday about discussions he had with Ohio GOP chairperson Bob Paduchik leading up to the 2020 election, Trump said he was growing frustrated with DeWine.
“And no matter what happened, we had this terrible governor that you had. Terrible, terrible guy,” Trump said. “And he was fighting us.”
When DeWine acknowledged Joe Biden as president-elect a week after Trump lost in 2020, Trump, who had just begun challenging the election result, tweeted:
“Who will be running for Governor of the Great State of Ohio? Will be hotly contested!”
With that gubernatorial primary now just a week away, however, Trump has not endorsed a candidate, nor is he expected to.
“He looks at the polls, the people advising him look at the polls as well, and they see that DeWine is going to win that contest hands down,” said Paul Beck, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University.
DeWine faces three challengers to his right, but polling shows the top two performers are splitting the anti-DeWine vote.
The latest poll, released Tuesday by Fox News, has DeWine with 43% of likely voters. If former Northeast Ohio Congressman Jim Renacci (24%) and Canal Winchester farmer Joe Blystone (19%) were one candidate, they would be tied with DeWine and the race would be wide open. But the two candidates are instead splitting his opposition.
If Ohio was one of the eight states that require a candidate to win a majority of the vote (more than 50%) in a primary, the polling would tell a different story. But because DeWine only needs a plurality, Beck said: “All he has to do is come in first.”
“He’s so far ahead that I think a Trump endorsement wouldn’t really matter in this contest,” Beck said, “and my suspicion is that the former president thinks the same thing.”
There’s also no indication that DeWine has been courting Trump’s endorsement. The governor told USA Today in January that he hadn’t asked for it, nor has he ever visited the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted has been there but also hadn’t asked for Trump’s support.
Blystone is a political newcomer, but Trump and Renacci — a former four-term congressman from Medina — have history.
Trump endorsed Renacci when he ran against Sherrod Brown for the U.S. Senate in 2018, and he also spoke at the same Cleveland rally DeWine did right before that election.
“He’s strong, he’s tough, and he doesn’t take no for an answer,” Trump said while introducing Renacci at that rally.
But unlike DeWine, Renacci lost his race — by nearly 7 points. And despite Renacci’s campaign promoting his appearance at Saturday’s Trump rally in Delaware, including old photos of him beside Trump, Renacci didn’t speak on stage. And more importantly, Trump didn’t endorse him.
“He wants to back winners,” Beck said.