Richard Cordray’s campaign for governor has become a rallying point for Democrats focused on rebuilding the party.
Barack Obama is diving into Democrats’ campaign to retake the Midwest on Thursday, headlining an Ohio rally for former top appointee Richard Cordray in a bid to rebuild the stricken state Democratic Party.
Cordray, the former attorney general of Ohio appointed by Obama to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, is locked in a dead-heat race with Republican state Attorney General Mike DeWine — a sign of Democrats’ resurgence since President Donald Trump swept Ohio and neighboring states on his way to victory in 2016.
The campaign has become a focus for national Democrats intent on rebuilding their party: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a Cordray mentor, has stumped for him, as has Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), another potential 2020 presidential candidate. Former Vice President Joe Biden will also return to Ohio to boost Cordray soon, though the specifics of his next visit have not yet come together. They are hoping to undo years of reversals for the state Democrats, who have been locked out of every statewide constitutional office since 2010 and had no leverage on the last redistricting process, allowing Republicans to cement majorities in the state legislature.
“Democrats have always had significant trouble in Ohio picking up statehouse seats and statewide offices when a Democrat occupies the White House. It’s been that way since World War II,” said Joe Rugola, a Democratic National Committee member and the executive director of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees. Rugola added: “There’s no question that we have a dynamic working in our favor” this year.
Cordray is an awkward fit in some ways for a marquee 2018 race: The former bureaucrat, who led the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after serving as Ohio’s attorney general, has invoked his kids to defend himself against charges that he’s too bland — “I don’t think I’m boring, and my children don’t think I’m boring,” he told the Cleveland Plain Dealer — in a year when Democratic activists have demanded a more strident approach to politics.
But Cordray insists his approach is the right fit for Ohio, where he is campaigning relentlessly on his record regulating Wall Street banks.
“People can make their own judgments about ideologies or anything else,” Cordray said in an interview. “But people here want to know that you care about things that matter to them, you have plans and you’ll be able to execute those plans.”
DeWine, a statewide officeholder for 24 of the past 28 years, is also stylistically out of place in Trump’s GOP. But while DeWine may not be the archetypal Trump Republican, he does have the president’s backing. Donald Trump Jr. is headlining a fundraising event for DeWine on Thursday in Salem as Obama rallies for Cordray.
Republicans are also hammering Cordray in an effort to prevent a Democratic takeover in a key state. The Republican Governors Association has been on air across the state with an ad focused on discrimination at the CFPB while Cordray was running the agency. The Republican National Committee has kept Cordray in its crosshairs as well, using Cordray and Sen. Sherrod Brown as figureheads for Democrats opposed to the country’s economic progress.
When news broke about Obama’s planned visit to Ohio for Cordray the RNC sent out another email arguing that Cordray “hurt small businesses and consumers” while running the CFPB.
“It’s no surprise that President Obama is attempting to inject life into Richard Cordray’s campaign, after Cordray spent years in Washington implementing a partisan agenda of over-regulation at the nation’s most unaccountable agency,” RNC spokesperson Mandi Merritt said in a statement. “Ohioans spoke when they rejected these Obama and Strickland era policies, and Richard Cordray’s desire to turn back time on our economic progress proves just how out-of-touch he really is.”
Obama’s ties to Cordray go back beyond the CFPB, to when Cordray was one of the few top Ohio Democrats to support him over Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2008 Ohio Democratic presidential primary. Besides the public event with Cordray, Obama will meet with a small group of supporters for a photo opportunity, according to two Democrats with knowledge of the plans.
Both campaigns are raising money at a torrid pace to compete in the big battleground state, with Cordray raising $2.7 million to DeWine’s $2.4 million in the most recent fundraising period. (DeWine had more cash in his account, $9.6 million to Cordray’s $5.3 million.)
While Cordray has had to answer questions about his intensity on the campaign trail, he has benefitted from plenty among the Democratic base, which has flooded his campaign with online donations and has shown eagerness to support the Democratic ticket in November.
“What you’re seeing is a changing of the guard,” said Democrat Aftab Pureval, the candidate running against GOP Rep. Steve Chabot in Cincinnati. Pureval is set to deliver remarks before Obama’s speech at the Thursday rally. “Folks like me and so many other first time candidates making an argument for a new generation of leadership.”
But Cordray, ever subdued, said being a competitive candidate isn’t only about being new.
“I don’t know about a new wave of candidates,” Cordray said, rattling off his experience as state treasurer and attorney general. He continued: “People are very worried about their economic futures. They’re being told the economy is good and on average that’s so but they don’t live their lives in the average, they live their lives in the concrete, and there’s a lot of communities here that feel left out and left behind of that prosperity.”