COLUMBUS — A battle for the women’s vote looks to be on in Ohio.
As Democratic Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley joined the race for governor Monday and with Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor expected to join the contest, the battleground state could see a record number of female candidates on next year’s ballot for Ohio’s highest state office.
The phenomenon comes a year after Hillary Clinton became the first female major-party presidential nominee and as well-attended marches focused on women’s issues have taken place across the U.S.
Whaley, 41, says she wants to bring back jobs that pay enough to raise a family, hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their role in the state’s opioid crisis and represent those who have become invisible to politicians in Columbus.
She joins former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton and former state Rep. Connie Pillich in the Democratic primary, along with state Sen. Joe Schiavoni.
Taylor, a former state auditor, and Attorney General Mike DeWine are widely expected to seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination. They would join a field that now includes U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci and Secretary of State Jon Husted. Husted joined the race Sunday and has embarked on a cross-state announcement tour this week.
Whaley said she’s pleased to be running with other women in the race.
“We get to talk more about the issues and what we can do for our state, rather than being a siloed woman candidate,” she said.
Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, said Clinton’s Democratic campaign last year “certainly gave women a sense of what is possible.” Another contributing factor, he said, is the increasingly more diverse U.S. political class, positioning more women with the experience to seek the highest offices.
Throughout history, fewer than four dozen females have served or are serving as state governors. But it’s become increasingly common for women to be elected to the office in recent decades.
Still, Smith said, so few women have run for governor before in Ohio that “we have no real tradition of this necessarily” to look to as a guide.
“I’m not sure you can assume that if a woman runs for statewide office that she’s necessarily going to get a large surge of support (from female voters),” he said.
Ohio’s only woman governor, Republican Nancy Hollister, served 11 days beginning in December 1998. As then-Gov. George Voinovich’s lieutenant governor, she stepped into the job when he was elected to a seat in the U.S. Senate and left the brief vacancy. Hollister served until the term of the next governor, Republican Bob Taft, began that January.
Interviewed Monday, Hollister said she doesn’t believe Clinton’s campaign was a primary factor, but that women are simply eager to get engaged and share their skills. She said having many women running would be “super.”
“So a governor has to be able to reach out and touch a number of folks, from urban, suburban and rural agriculture (areas). I mean, you have to be multifaceted,” she said. “And I think women have great talent for that.”
Sandy Theis, who heads the liberal think tank ProgressOhio, also said it isn’t all about Hillary Clinton. She cited frustration over policy issues — particularly health care and abortion — that are driving a surge in Democratic female candidates at all levels.
“Fighting the same reproductive fight that our grandmothers fought has people mad,” she said.
Smith said being matched up against male politicians of the caliber of DeWine or Husted — with their deep political resumes, fundraising expertise and years in high-profile offices — will pose a challenge for the other candidates, male or female.
Whaley said she can’t say whether being a woman will make a difference: “I don’t know how to really compare it, because I’ve always been a woman. I don’t know any other way.”
AP Writer Kantele Franko contributed to this report.