By Jim Ellis
Aug. 3, 2017 — We now have our first major political poll for the important open Ohio governor’s race, a contest that features several current and former prominent office holders from both parties.
The Tarrance Group surveyed the Ohio Republican electorate (July 24-26; 800 likely Ohio GOP voters) for the American Freedom Builders conservative organization, testing next year’s Republican gubernatorial primary that includes three sitting statewide elected officials and a member of Congress.
According to the Tarrance results, attorney general and former US Sen. Mike DeWine leads the field both in support (42 percent) and name identification (96 percent). He enjoys a wide margin over Secretary of State Jon Husted who polls 18 percent, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor (11 percent), with US Rep. Jim Renacci (R-Wadsworth) now taking just five percent.
Name familiarity at this point has a great deal to do with ballot test standing. Husted’s name is recognized by 67 percent of the respondents, and Lt. Gov. Taylor just 44 percent, while Rep. Renacci is unknown to 71 percent of the statewide voters.
The financial reports have just been released, too, and while AG DeWine has the most in the bank, $4.7 million but that includes a candidate loan of $1 million, Husted raised the most during the quarter: $1.3 million ($4.3 million cash-on-hand). Rep. Renacci loaned his gubernatorial campaign $4 million and raised $576,000, which translates to $4.4 million in the bank. Lt. Gov. Taylor lags here, too, raising a respectable $640,000, but keeping only $437,000 in her campaign account.
This race promises to be hard fought all the way to the May Republican primary. Since the candidates have resources, the less familiar ones will gain credibility and support once they become better known. When this occurs, the support numbers will likely become much closer.
For the Democrats, who are well behind in the resource race, it is surprising that former state Rep. Connie Pillich had the best financial quarter. She raised $547,000 with $721,000 in her account. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley attracted $445,000 with $395,000 on hand; state Sen. Joe Schiavoni: $342,000/$245,000; and former US Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Copley), perhaps equally surprising to Pillich having the best quarter, is conversely in the worst financial position, with a $275,000/$210,000 split.
Fifteen-term Tennessee Congressman John J. “Jimmy” Duncan (R-Knoxville) announced that he will not seek re-election next year. Duncan has represented the Knoxville metro area since winning a special election to replace his late father in 1988. Rep. John J. Duncan Sr. (R) represented the district for 23 years. The congressman, now 70 years old, says at this stage of his life he wants to spend more time with his family, especially his young grandchildren.
Tennessee’s 2nd District encompasses the Knoxville/Knox County population anchor, which is 61 percent of the district’s constituency. The seat contains five whole counties and parts of two others, stretching from south of Knoxville all the way to the Kentucky and Virginia borders. Republicans first won this seat in 1866, and have held it ever since. The current representative holds the longevity record for the 2nd District, surpassing his father’s tenure, which is second longest.
President Trump carried the seat last November with 65 percent of the vote, down a bit from Mitt Romney’s 67 percent in 2012. The open district will be rated as Safe Republican for the 2018 election cycle.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett (R) is a likely successor candidate. Even before the Duncan retirement declaration, Burchett had a political announcement scheduled and most believed he was planning to challenge Duncan in the GOP primary. After the retirement decision, Burchett was effusive in his praise of the congressman’s career and the Duncan family’s political and civic contributions to the Knoxville region. In addition to Duncan and his late father serving in Congress, Betsy Duncan Massey, the congressman’s sister, serves in the state Senate.
Now that Duncan’s retirement is public, we will see others joining the field. But, with Mayor Burchett already representing over 60 percent of the district, he must be considered a strong candidate for the succeeding congressional race and quite possibly the early leader.