Cordray, Sutton, Join Forces For Democratic Race For Gov

Richard Cordray, seated left, holds hands with new running mate Betty Sutton, right, during their campaign appearance Jan. 10, 2017 in an Akron restaurant. (Photo: M.L. Schultze)
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The newly merged gubernatorial campaign of Democrats Richard Cordray and Betty Sutton is promising to focus on “kitchen table issues:” Jobs and wages, education, healthcare and a secure retirement. For Ohio Public Radio, WKSU’s M.L. Schultze reports on the commitments made at their first joint campaign appearance -- and the likelihood that Ohio will once again have one of the highest profile gubernatorial races in the country.

The front room at Akron Family restaurant was what you’d expect during the midmorning lull. A few couples at a few tables ordering up bacon-and eggs.  But the back room was packed with Democrats excited to see what they clearly regard as their front-running ticket.

Over the music of rocker Bruce Springsteen, an announcer introduced the new duo to applause. 

It was Cordray's and Sutton's first joint appearance. Though the event was in Sutton’s backyard – and she entered the gubernatorial race months before Cordray – it’s Sutton who’s now running for lieutenant governor. She said the decision was not about her or even about Cordray.

“It’s about the people that we seek to serve and the change that we strive to bring," she said. "I am proud to join forces today to create an even stronger team than either of us could deliver if we stayed apart.”  

Cordray and Sutton made references to changing the tone of politics. But they never directly named President Donald Trump, nor social issues, during the rough 25 minutes they spoke. Instead, they repeatedly raised personal economic issues.

“This is a partnership driven by a desire to make progress for not some, but all Ohioans," Cordray said.  "Our campaign is about the kitchen-table issues that dominate people’s lives. The things that hold them back or keep them up at night.” 

" Government can be a force for good if it’s done in a way that is aimed at the right things," added Sutton.

For Sutton and Cordray, the national Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is evidence of good government. While in Congress, Sutton co-sponsored the law creating the bureau. President Barack Obama named Cordray the agency’s first chief.

“Wall Street had run roughshod and people were reeling in the aftermath. Enter Rich Cordray, who built the CFPB and who did that job in a way that finally gave people an opportunity to fight back," said Sutton.

In the packed room, it was an applause line. Outside, not necessarily.

David Haas, an orthodontist from Medina, was having a late breakfast. He said he likes what’s happening in Washington now and wants to see more of it in Ohio. Cordray is the antithesis of what he thinks is needed.

“On Rich Cordray’s recent experience the consumer protection bureau, he ran it as an autocrat and I just don’t think he did a very good job," said Haas. "He’s got a political ambition, that’s been apparent for quite some time, since he was attorney general here.” 

That split in perception is likely to be a theme for the general election. But for now, the focus is on the primary voters.

Jerry Austin, a (primarily Democratic) political consultant who came to watch the Democratic show, said the Cordray/Sutton ticket made sense.

“They balance the ticket based upon gender, geography, experience and save each other a lot of money in terms of the primary and I think this is the right ticket and it happened the right way," he said.

Of course, other Democrats remain in the gubernatorial race -- at least five of them: former state Rep. Connie Pillich, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill and former Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

Political scientist Dave Cohen expects some will drop out, though he says there still likely will be a primary race in May. One reason is the entry last week of the high-profile Kucinich.

“The guy’s bored in retirement and wants to stay relevant," said Cohen.  

But Cohen, like Austin, said the Cordray/Sutton developments are the ones to watch.  

"I think it makes Cordray/Sutton the presumptive favorite on the Democratic side, and allow Democrats to coalesce around a team.”

The front runners in the Republican field are the team of Mike DeWine and Jon Husted. Like Cordray and Sutton, they had been rivals for the nomination before becoming running mates. And like the Cordray/Sutton team, Jerry Austin says they’re expected to draw big money and attention to Ohio.

"Ohio will be one of the premier governor’s races in the country and there will be money in this race from both sides from out of state," said Austin.

And Austin expects what happens with Ohio’s gubernatorial race will also be key in what happens with another race: the 2020 presidential election.

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