National News

Richard Cordray Defeats Dennis Kucinich in Ohio Democratic Primary

Posted May 8, 2018 9:36 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON — In a hard-fought battle between two liberal Democrats, Richard Cordray, the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, won the party’s nomination in the Ohio governor’s race on Tuesday night over the former congressman and presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich, according to The Associated Press.

The victory by Cordray, who was endorsed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and drew strong labor support, came as a relief to many Democrats who saw Kucinich as unelectable, given his sharply left-wing views and ties to a group sympathetic to Syrian President Bashar Assad. Cordray will compete this fall against Mike DeWine, the state attorney general, who claimed the Republican nomination after an aggressive challenge from Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.

In other major primaries Tuesday, Republicans in West Virginia and Indiana were choosing candidates to run for Senate in November against two vulnerable Democratic incumbents. The Indiana senator, Joe Donnelly, won renomination with no opposition.

The West Virginia Senate primary race drew widespread attention in recent days as President Donald Trump and other Washington Republicans came out hard against one of the party’s candidates, Don Blankenship, the former coal executive who served a year in prison in connection with a mining disaster in 2010 that claimed 29 lives. The winner will face Sen. Joe Manchin III, a Democrat who enjoys some Republican support but will be running for re-election in a state that Trump carried by 42 percentage points in 2016.

Indiana Republicans settled a bloody Senate primary between three largely indistinguishable candidates, selecting Mike Braun, a wealthy former state legislator and business executive, to challenge Donnelly, a first-term Democrat. Braun campaigned successfully as a political outsider, though his business record is likely to face closer scrutiny in the general election.

“We seem to be in the era of the outsider, said John Hammond, a lawyer and member of the Republican National Committee from Indiana. “That message along with it being extremely well funded, he outspent the other campaigns 2-1. Plus the basic message resonates with a lot of the Republican base in Indiana. They are looking for someone from the outside, not a part of the system to deal with a system that they think seems to be broken.”

Trump is scheduled to campaign in Indiana against Donnelly on Thursday.

And in a low-profile election distinguished only by a famous last name, Greg Pence, the vice president’s brother, claimed the Republican nomination in Indiana’s 6th Congressional District. Pence, who vacuumed up campaign funds from national donors close to his brother, is the strong favorite to win what was his brother’s old seat.

In Ohio, Cordray’s victory in the Democratic primary marks an important initial success in his return to electoral politics after serving for most of a decade in the Obama administration.

His success also demonstrated a show of strength for Warren and unions against the more far-left elements of the party, including some of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ allies who had endorsed Kucinich. (Sanders, I-Vt., did not make an endorsement in the race.) Should Cordray win this November, it will give Democrats a foothold back in a battleground state that has been drifting to the right in recent years.

A former Ohio attorney general who was defeated for re-election in 2010, Cordray became the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a watchdog agency set up after the 2008 economic meltdown to scrutinize Wall Street. He stepped down from the bureau late last year, months before his term was set to expire, in order to run for governor.

Cordray faced stiff opposition in his political homecoming, most notably from Kucinich, a flamboyant 71-year-old former congressman and Cleveland mayor who is aligned with the far left.

Despite collecting endorsements from powerful labor unions and campaigning alongside Warren — a hero to liberals — Cordray struggled at times to inspire enthusiasm from rank and file Democratic voters.

And after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in February, Cordray agonized over having taken conservative stances on gun control in the past; he had even earned the endorsement of the National Rifle Association in 2010.

Yet Cordray ultimately had far broader appeal than Kucinich, who also flailed in the final weeks of the race to explain his past praise of Trump and his decision to accept $20,000 from a group supportive of Assad. (After attempting to dismiss questions about the fee, he eventually returned the money.)

Cordray will confront a tougher and more conventional opponent in DeWine. A longtime political hand in Ohio and Washington, DeWine is a powerful fundraiser with a record of running toward the center in difficult elections. DeWine is likely to benefit, somewhat paradoxically, from both Trump’s strength in the state and the popularity of the outgoing governor, John Kasich, a Republican who ran against Trump in 2016 and is one of the president’s most insistent critics.

The burden will be on Cordray to show that his populist message and soft-spoken persona can resonate in a state where Republicans have held the governorship for all but four years since 1990.

But the most closely watched race — and, for Republicans, the most anxiety-inducing one — was in West Virginia, where Blankenship threatened to again torpedo the party’s chances for success in a red-state Senate seat. Trump had remained quiet about the primary race even as Blankenship began attacking Republican leaders, such as referring to the family of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as the majority leader’s “China family” and calling McConnell himself “Cocaine Mitch.”

But after a telephone call Sunday with McConnell, and on the advice of his own aides, Trump finally waded into the race with a tweet Monday morning aimed at West Virginians.

“Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can’t win the General Election in your State...No way!” Trump wrote, before encouraging voters to support either of Blankenship’s opponents, Rep. Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

Trump also invoked the last time Republicans gave away a Senate seat by nominating a flawed candidate, an event that he suggested would live in political infamy. “Remember Alabama,” he wrote, alluding to the party’s nomination of former state judge Roy S. Moore, who lost a special election after a series of women emerged to accuse him of making sexual advances on them when they were teenagers. Moore, though, had not served a prison sentence.

McConnell on Tuesday would not discuss the attacks against he and his family, allowing that he would “have more to say on that tomorrow” should Blankenship win.

The former chief executive of Massey Energy, Blankenship spent a year in federal prison after being convicted of conspiring to violate mine safety rules in connection with the Upper Big Branch mining disaster.

Blankenship faced a series of attacks from Republican groups aligned with McConnell for his role in the explosion and was also criticized for keeping his official residence in Las Vegas and refusing to fully disclose his extensive financial holdings.

But while Morrisey and Jenkins attacked one another, and a Democratic super PAC assailed Jenkins, Blankenship’s poll numbers crept back up.

That was in part because he dipped into his personal wealth to air a series of incendiary ads targeting McConnell’s wife and in-laws.

“Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people,” Blankenship said in one commercial, alluding to the shipping business of McConnell’s father-in-law.

By last weekend, when it became clear that he was a threat to win and imperil the party’s one-seat Senate majority, Republican officials determined the moment had come for Trump to step in.