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Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley enters Ohio gubernatorial contest with focus on corruption

The Ohio Democrat enters a race that figures to be difficult for her party, given the Buckeye State has moved further to the right over the last decade and backed former President Donald Trump both in 2016 and 2020. The Dayton mayor argues in her announcement video that it is the toughness of her city — one that has seen factories close, a deadly mass shooting in 2019 and the opioid epidemic ravage communities — that makes her the best candidate to buck this trend.

“When you have been through what Dayton has… it molds you, puts a little steel in your spine, makes you strong enough to stand up to the biggest bullies and fight for your own,” Whaley says in the video, which shows her talking with Trump as she says the word “bullies.” “The only way I got through it all was to be as tough as the people of Dayton and the people who raised me.”

DeWine, a Republican governor who has run afoul of the far right of his party at times, is expected to be the GOP nominee. But a number of more conservative Republicans are considering running against the incumbent from the right.

Whaley, in an interview with CNN on Monday, said that she doesn’t care who the Republican nominee is because “anybody that’s running on the Republican side will be from the same old, same old, past three decades of state house politics” and focused on corruption in Columbus.

“I believe in my bones that the people of Ohio deserve better. They need someone like a mayor that knows that they’re working longer hours and getting paid less and not being able to provide for their families,” Whaley said. “And really, here in Ohio, for the past three decades, we’ve had the same corrupt politicians in Columbus who care more about extreme interests and lining their personal and political pockets rather than folks who are trying to provide for their families.”

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Whaley’s announcement includes video of Larry Householder, the Republican speaker of Ohio’s House of Representatives, who was arrested in 2020 on charges connected to a $60 million bribery scheme. It also includes video of protestors heckling DeWine to “do something” during a vigil after the Dayton shooting.

While Whaley is not the only Democrat running in the gubernatorial primary — John Cranley, the mayor of Cincinnati, is exploring a run — she is seen as one of the best positioned Democrats in what could be a difficult race.

In national races, Republicans have dominated the since former President Barack Obama won Ohio in his 2012 reelection bid, with the party sweeping statewide offices in 2014 and with Sen. Rob Portman easily defeating former Gov. Ted Strickland for Senate in 2016. Only one Democrat has represented the state as governor since 1991 — Strickland’s tenure from 2007 to 2011.

When asked about how hard it has been for Democrats other than Sen. Sherrod Brown to win statewide in Ohio over the last decade, Whaley replied, “My position on Ohio has always been that I don’t believe it’s a blue state or a red state. I believe it knows it is slipping further and further behind and the people… vote out their frustration in that.”

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Whaley was born and raised in Indiana and moved to Dayton in 1994 to attend the University of Dayton. Before becoming mayor, Whaley served two terms on the Dayton City Commission. She was first elected mayor in 2013 and was reelected in 2017.

Whaley’s campaign, while focused on local issues, will be impacted by the success or failure of President Joe Biden’s administration, a trend that often plays out in midterm elections.

Whaley said she decided to run for governor because Ohio needs “local solutions” to the state’s problems and does not believe the Biden administration plays a role in whether she can win or not.

“We need local solutions, and we need a local cleanup, because the corruption in the state is getting to epic proportions and that just has nothing to do with the national dialogue of the day,” she said, before joking about the President’s dog. “That just has nothing to do with the national dialogue of the day of what Joe Biden has done or who Major has bitten or blah, blah, blah.”

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