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Gov. DeWine Faces Challenges Even While Enjoying High Approval Ratings: How this political reality could impact the administration’s handling of COVID-19

Smart Summary

  • Despite receiving praise locally and nationally for his response to the COVID-19 pandemic thus far, Governor DeWine faces challenges from within his own party.
  • Some GOP critics have expressed concern over, among other things, the governor’s previous statewide stay-at-home order and support of Dr. Amy Acton, which may have triggered the recent changes in DeWine’s approach to COVID-19.
  • It is yet to be determined whether the governor’s stance in favor of localized restrictions will help him quiet his critics within the Ohio GOP.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has received national praise for saving lives through his early intervention to curb the spread of COVID-19. And closer to home, in recent polling, DeWine has earned impressive marks from Ohioans for his handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, a major reason why the governor enjoys sky-high approval ratings.

Yet, despite his favorability across the state, the governor faces challenges where many people might least expect it – from within his own Republican party. But that’s not to say DeWine fails to enjoy broad popularity within the GOP- the latest Quinnipiac poll revealed a 76% approval rating among Republicans surveyed.

Nevertheless, some cracks in his support have emerged within the Republican base, particularly in the critically important conservative regions of the state upon which statewide GOP officeholders rely for electoral and governing support. A contingent of reliable Republicans in mostly rural, but some suburban, counties have publicly expressed their displeasure over DeWine’s shuttering of the state’s economy – and the pace of its re-opening – to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some GOP members and activists also have serious misgivings surrounding the governor’s decisions regarding the March primary.

The anger has bubbled over, and a few examples, among others, reveal some of the political pressure bearing down on the governor:

Weeks ago, a number of GOP House members urged almost daily for the ouster of former Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, who ultimately resigned on June 11 to become the governor’s health advisor. Widely praised across the state and nationally, Dr. Acton was a polarizing figure for some Republicans who believed her public health orders were unlawful and unnecessarily crippling Ohio’s businesses.

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder has publicly criticized the governor’s administration over its health orders and re-opening policy.

In early June, a few rock-ribbed GOP county parties sent a joint letter to Gov. DeWine, according to The Columbus Dispatch. While they “applauded” the governor’s initial reaction to COVID-19, there were major concerns that the governor’s more recent actions had caused undue harm to Ohio’s economy, causing political angst among the GOP base. “You have disappointed your party faithful,” the letter stated.

Gov. DeWine and his advisors can little afford to ignore these influential Republican voices within part of the GOP base essential to his potential re-election prospects. Further, this GOP bloc is important to his governing agenda because it has the ear of many rural and some suburban Republicans who have a major say in the legislature.

When making decisions regarding COVID-19, Gov. DeWine probably will be even more mindful of this critical faction within his own party, a political reality likely to shape the administration’s policies moving forward.

 The governor seems content, for now, to fight COVID-19 in a localized way.

Perhaps this can be seen in the governor’s public support for local – but not state – regulations requiring that mask coverings be worn in cities where new COVID-19 cases are surging. For example, Gov. DeWine applauded Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley when her city became Ohio’s first major municipality to mandate masks in public spaces. The timing of the governor’s support for Dayton’s mask requirement occurred just before he unveiled a new color-coded, county-by-county COVID-19 alert system. It provides no mandates, but rather seeks to inform local governments and the public about the COVID-19 threat in their own communities.

For now, the governor seems content for local officials to enact their own restrictions. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the media or local government officials that this is a departure from how Gov. DeWine initially handled the pandemic. reporter Laura Hancock wrote in one of her stories that rural lawmakers in the spring asked the governor to loosen restrictions in their home counties because there were far fewer COVID-19 cases than in urban settings. But Gov. DeWine defended his statewide stay-at-home order, describing a county-by-county approach to limitations as “a disaster for this state.”

Now, about two months later, the governor recently explained that his administration is examining the COVID-19 threat with a regional lens, saying, as quoted by, “I’ve had a lot of people, particularly those in rural areas, who have said ‘Mike, why don’t you start looking at it county by county?’ We’re doing that.”

When the governor unveiled the administration’s COVID-19 alert system, he mentioned taking into consideration the thoughts of the Ohio General Assembly. No doubt he paid attention to the views of rural lawmakers. Gov. DeWine has explained that his latest policies reflect a new phase in our battle with COVID-19- a period in which we need to learn to live with the virus.

But the governor also is learning how to live with – and navigate – a challenging Republican Party when it comes to fighting the pandemic.

Stay tuned.

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