CINCINNATI — Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley officially launched his campaign for Ohio governor on Tuesday, testing whether a moderate Democrat can win a red-leaning state with promises of jobs and growth paid for with profits from legalized recreational marijuana.
“Cincinnati is going through a comeback," Cranley said. "Now Ohio needs a comeback. Most of Ohio is in decline. It’s aging and young people are moving away.”
Cranley has a long list of what he’d like to bring to Ohio: expanded high-speed broadband internet access throughout the state, 30,000 new high-paying jobs, rebuilt roads and bridges, clean-water initiatives, and $500 annual dividends paid to each Ohio family from natural gas industry profits.
“I think the kind of leadership we’ve shown here is the kind of leadership that we need in Columbus," Cranley said. "Results-oriented. With specific ideas to rebuild the middle class."
But before he can test his ideas with general election voters, he must first face Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in May. And if Monday is any indication, it may be a brutal race.
Whaley refused to let Cranley have the limelight on Monday in his hometown. While Cranley met with reporters at a Downtown park ahead of his official gubernatorial announcement, hours later and a few streets away Whaley held a campaign stop at a coffee shop as part of her 88-county “Ohio Deserves Better” tour.
Neither Cranley nor Whaley would answer questions or talk about the other when asked by reporters on Monday.
“We are friends and I wish her the best,” Cranley said.
Both saved their criticism for the Republican party and for current Gov. Mike DeWine, who will likely face a primary challenger of his own in May.
“For the past three decades we’ve had the same politicians with the same response of lining their pockets with self-interests,” Whaley said. “We deserve a change, and we deserve someone who is not a millionaire, but from the middle class. Someone who knows the challenges that are facing Ohioans every day.”
Cranley and Whaley are longtime political allies from neighboring cities who share the same higher political aspirations.
Cranley has been in public service in Cincinnati for the better part of 20 years, first as a Cincinnati City Councilmember, and then as a two-term mayor. Once he finishes his term at the end of the year, he is term-limited from running again.
While Cranley enjoys widespread name recognition in Southwest Ohio, he is relatively unknown in other parts of the state. He will be crisscrossing the state in the coming weeks with campaign stops to announce endorsements and meet with local leaders and voters.
“I don’t care if you’re Democrat or Republican, everybody wants hope," Cranley said. "They want a better Ohio for their kids and grandkids. And we have real specific ideas … those kind of specific plans are what Ohio needs to rebuild the middle class.”
Cranley has raised $1.55 million so far, with $1.31 million in cash on hand. While Whaley has raised more, at $1.64 million during the first half of 2021 for her gubernatorial campaign, she has roughly the same cash on hand as Cranley, with $1.35 million.
They are also both accumulating endorsements on a regular basis. So far Whaley has the endorsement of the Ohio State Council of Machinists, CWA District 4, (SEIU) District 1199 WV/KY/OH, IUE-CWA, OAPSE/AFSCME Local 4, Ohio Democratic Women’s Legislative Caucus, EMILY's List and more than 130 local elected officials and state leaders.
Cranley is expected to begin unveiling his list of endorsements this week, which includes 30 prominent African American faith leaders from across the state.
In Cincinnati, Cranley is best known for his hands-on approach to being mayor, his close ties to the business community, his preference for spending city dollars on basic services such as roads and police, his knack for fundraising across the aisle with Republicans, and his close relationship with African American church leaders that helped him consistently win a key voting demographic.
But his campaign formula in a statewide race could be tricky. He’s a moderate Democrat trying to win a state that was once a bellwether for presidents but turned out decisively for former President Donald Trump last November.
For his part, Cranley seems self-assured on his path ahead.
“Ohio was once the biggest middle class in America and it has shrunk under the failed leadership,” Cranley said. “In Cincinnati we’re the only major comeback story in Ohio. We’ve turned our city around.”