Primary results in Indiana and Ohio this week—two states many would argue have become locked in the chokehold of Trumpism —proved especially bleak for more progressive candidates in the latter, like Cleveland’s Nina Turner and Columbus’ Morgan Harper. Yet, one victory—small, though hardly inconsequential—offered some Ohioans cause for hope.
Nan Whaley, the former mayor of Dayton, became the first woman to win a major party nomination for governor of Ohio. Better yet, Whaley—alongside running mate, Cheryl Stephens—is also the first women-only ticket to win the nomination of a major party in U.S. history.
“I’m grateful that people, voters and Ohio democrats chose me, for sure,” Whaley told Jezebel. I just think it should have happened way before 2022.”
The gubernatorial hopeful became something of a household name in 2019 following a fatal shooting at a local bar, which claimed the lives of 10 citizens and devastated the Dayton-area. Whaley was lauded for both her full-throated calls for gun reform and staunch criticism of then-president Donald Trump. She has been a longtime proponent of progressive ideals like $15 minimum wage, abortion access and universal education and has aligned herself with beloved Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown on worker’s rights.
“President Biden called to congratulate me and the first thing I said was like, you know, this is a state that is worker-centered always. That’s why I love Ohio, and I think that’s why I do so well here,” Whaley said.
It’s these policies that not only put her in stark contrast with current Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine but will surely make the race all the more contentious, as the fate of Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance, and Ohio’s trigger laws—legislation DeWine has historically supported—loom larger than ever over the state. Whaley, doesn’t seem worried and instead, highlighted DeWine’s inconsistencies on issues Ohioans—and the country—are currently most impassioned about.
“We’ve seen this now on a half dozen issues—redistricting, covid-19, gun safety, etc.—he’ll say what’s politically convenient at the front of this conversation. But when the rubber meets the road, he completely collapses to radicals and extremists,” she told me.
Between abortion rights and DeWine’s handling of the coronavius pandemic alone, Whaley will have plenty of ammunition. While DeWine initially garnered national praise for his leadership during the first few months of the covid-19 lockdown—largely in part to aid from Dr. Amy Acton—it wasn’t long before he bowed to backlash about masking and stay-at-home orders from state conservatives who began protesting with assault weapons outside of Acton’s home. Ultimately, Acton resigned within weeks and DeWine would continue to dog whistle to the right.
Given the same strains of conservatism also just won venture capitalist and Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance a nomination to represent Ohio in the U.S. Senate after he was bolstered by Trump himself, Whaley faces what’s been repeatedly deemed an “uphill” battle. What was once referred to as a bellwether state now seems more of a testing ground for Trump’s influence. DeWine and Trump have hardly seen eye-to-eye, but the former president did endorse DeWine in his first gubernatorial election. Should he involve himself again in the lead-up to November, Whaley will likely have even more cause for concern.
“Ohio isn’t a red state or a blue state — it’s a frustrated state that’s been ignored by politicians from both parties for far too long,” Whaley asserted in her victory speech on Tuesday evening.
I’d argue given the recent results, the state is pretty much magenta, and “frustrated” is an understatement. For now, though, maybe it’s best we just bask in the one good thing that’s happened in Ohio’s increasingly abysmal political landscape in quite some time.