In part one of our primary day coverage, John Nichols of The Nation analyzes the closely watched Democratic gubernatorial race in Ohio, where Richard Cordray prevailed over Dennis Kucinich
AARON MATE: It’s the Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. Tuesday was primary day in the U.S., and the first major one of the 2018 campaign season. Votes were held in four states: Indiana, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Ohio. And for both parties, the contests are an early test of which direction will prevail heading into 2018 midterms. For Republicans, will candidates rally around President Trump; and for Democrats, who will win the fight between grassroots progressives and centrist candidates favored by the party leadership? Well, joining me is John Nichols, national affairs correspondent for The Nation magazine. Welcome, John.
Let’s start in Ohio, always a key state in every vote. And on the Democratic side, for governor, you had a very unusual race in the sense that you had not just, you had not a progressive versus a centrist, but you had actually a battle inside the progressive wing with Dennis Kucinich going up against Richard Cordray. Cordray is the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He was backed by Elizabeth Warren. Dennis Kucinich, the former congress member, he was backed by the, by Our Revolution, which is the offshoot of the Bernie Sanders campaign. With the results now in, Cordray has claimed victory, with a pretty big margin over Kucinich. Let’s start with your thoughts on that contest.
JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. It was a really interesting contest, because as you say, each of these candidates had some arguments [inaudible] with progressive Democrat. What happened, though, as the race took off was that the news of the moment in the United States began to affect the race to some extent. When Kucinich got in the race he wasn’t very close to Cordray politically, you know, wasn’t polling all that well. And then you had the horrible shootings in Parkland, Florida, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and that really brought gun issues to the fore. And one of the interesting dynamics is that Richard Cordray as an Ohio political figure over the years has been pretty pro-gun, and in fact had gotten pretty favorable ratings from the NRA. And Kucinich really went after that very, very aggressively. He would appear at events with an F on his lapel, for the F rating, the failure rating that he got from the NRA. He really tried to distinguish himself on that gun issue. He also tried to distinguish himself on fracking, on single-payer health care, a host of other issues.
So the end of the day, Kucinich was running significantly to the left of Cordray, even though Cordray had some progressive credentials, and obviously had Elizabeth Warren. When all was said and done, what happened in this race is that Cordray had more money. He had some very significant union endorsements in Ohio, a state where unions are still quite strong, and ultimately it prevail. And he prevailed as, I would argue, a somewhat more mainstream, more traditional Democratic candidate. That made a lot of the party leaders very happy. But there are still a lot of folks in Ohio and around the country who argue that Kucinich’s very fiery, very progressive populist campaign might be a more viable, might have been a more viable candidacy as you went toward the fall.
AARON MATE: Do you think the fact that Kucinich lost will be used by the Democrat Party leadership to say, look, you know, these lefty candidates like him, they just won’t fly in a general election?
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, they did that, they did that in Ohio. And remember, Dennis Kucinich has been around Ohio politics for the better part of 40, well, the better part of 50 years. And he’s been a local official in Cleveland, a legislator, a member of Congress, a presidential candidate several times. And so Kucinich had a background. And in Ohio a lot of things in his background were used to attack him. He is portrayed as being too left wing, too tied to all sorts of international figures, international groups. And so there’s a lot of criticism of him in that regard.
The only reason I bring that up is to say that he did run to the left. There’s no question of that. I thought he ran a pretty impressive campaign on a whole host of measures. But I wouldn’t suggest to you that other progressives, other lefties, are now written off because Kucinich didn’t do well in Ohio. I think what you take away from the Ohio result is that you had some distinct personalities there. And Kucinich, again with less money, fewer endorsements, did not prevail. But I would really caution, and I think there’s a lot of cases around the country, and watching races all over, where I think progressives can and probably will win.
AARON MATE: You know, one thing I want to say about Kucinich is that, you know, positions that he was once mocked for a long time ago, including by Democrats, such as, you know, being so vocally anti-war, being vocally pro-LGBTQ, and favoring Medicare for all have now moved way into the mainstream of the Democratic Party.
JOHN NICHOLS: That’s exactly right, and I think those issues gave him a lot of resonance in this campaign. All I will tell you is that he was attacked very aggressively by a lot of folks in this campaign. I think that probably made it harder for him. He did not have an immense amount of money. So again, if you put that into perspective, and what I would tell you is at the start of this year’s campaign it was by [inaudible] people almost completely agreed that Cordray was going to be the nominee and that he would easily be nominated. What happened was Kucinich got in that race as a very independent-thinking progressive populist, ran a low budget but high energy campaign, and developed a significant level of support. Didn’t win. In fact, you know, he got beat pretty, pretty soundly here. But I, I wouldn’t begin to say that the issues didn’t resonate.
In fact, one of the interesting things about the race was as it went on, and as Kucinich was really banging on a lot of these progressive issues, you saw Richard Cordray, who was running a very cautious campaign, even what you might regard as a very centrist campaign on a lot of issues, developed stronger positions on the issues. Started to sound more populist, started to sound more progressive. And I think that Cordray becomes a stronger candidate for the November race for having had the challenge from Dennis Kucinich in this primary.
AARON MATE: Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. That’s going to be Part 1 of our discussion. And the next part we’re going to move on to another high-profile race, that’s in West Virginia, where the coal baron Don Blankenship is running on the Republican side for a Senate nomination in a very closely watched contest. Join us in that Part 2. John Nichols is national affairs correspondent for The Nation magazine. I’m Aaron Mate.