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Richard Cordray and Mike DeWine kept to their comfort zone in the third Ohio governor debate. Don’t expect that to change.

October 9, 2018

Richard Cordray and Mike DeWine kept to their comfort zone in the third Ohio governor debate. Don’t expect that to change.

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Monday night’s Ohio governor debate between Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray wasn’t the most enthralling in history, but neither candidate needed it to be.

DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, and Cordray, the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, met for the final time on the debate stage at Cleveland State University, the last of three planned forums, this one sponsored by the Ohio Debate Commission. Anyone looking for an exciting, game-changing moment – some kind of spectacular October surprise – would have been disappointed.

But, that’s the type of contest the candidates needed.

Watch the debate:

Cordray and DeWine have been in the public eye for nearly 70 years combined. These candidates aren’t new. Their histories are well known. And they’re not prone to controversy or dramatic displays of emotion.

There won’t be any glaring headlines that haunt them from Monday’s debate. Both got exactly what they needed – to push their talking points in front of a wide audience, and not make any significant gaffes. Seasoned political observers saw essentially the same arguments they’ve been seeing. Newcomers got a healthy dose of where the candidates stand on a number of issues.

The governor’s race is likely going to be decided in the margins. Polling routinely shows DeWine and Cordray in a statistical tie. And it’s no longer the primaries where they were fighting for the base. Instead, they’re trying to woo those ever-precious swing voters.

Cordray, in his attack-dog mode, landed a couple shots on DeWine, as he has in other debates. He showed the crowd he’s a fighter and not nearly as boring as his monotone voice might indicate. 

“I think the defining issue is leadership. I think the defining issue is who is going to be able to move this state forward, who is going to push this legislature forward – which has been such a backward force holding Ohio back,” Cordray said during a news conference following the debate. “And I think there’s no question that Mike DeWine won’t be in a position to do that, but I will.”

DeWine set out to show he’s Ohio’s crime fighter – as well as the “adult in the room” of the Republican Party, especially compared to President Donald Trump, who has alienated some members of the GOP.

“One of the points I wanted to make tonight is the governor has to be governor for everyone in this state,” DeWine said during his post-debate news conference. “You have to pull people together, you have to pull Democrats, Republicans, independents. I have a long history of doing that.”

Cordray tried to define DeWine as an old, out-of-touch politico who doesn’t care about the average Ohioan. DeWine tried to make Cordray out to be incompetent and not prepared to move Ohio forward.

In other words, Monday wasn’t that different from what DeWine and Cordray have pushed for months now.

At this point in the election, anyone who’s been following the governor’s race should have easily recognized the dividing lines and talking points from Monday night. Despite a concerted effort by the moderators to mix up the topics and ask questions that haven’t come up much in the race – net neutrality and public transit to name a couple – the candidates mostly retreated to their strong points.

Some of the lines uttered by DeWine and Cordray were nearly identical to those used by the two during an interview with the cleveland.com/Plain Dealer editorial board.

Both candidates obviously think what they’re doing is working to some degree. They’ve rarely deviated from their attack plan since the general election ramped up in late summer. They’ve found their “greatest hits” compilation.

That won’t change as the Nov. 6 election nears. DeWine and Cordray have each found their groove – health care for Cordray, crime and for DeWine – and they’re more than comfortable right now moving forward.

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