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Ohio Gov. DeWine prevails in contentious GOP primary, NBC News projects

Challengers lumped DeWine’s pandemic moves in with those made by liberal governors such as Andrew Cuomo in New York and Gavin Newsom in California.
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CINCINNATI — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has survived a Republican primary, NBC News projects, besting a trio of challengers Tuesday who had tried to stir anger over his aggressive pandemic management and doubts about his conservative credentials.

DeWine, 75, will face the winner of a bitter Democratic primary in a GOP-leaning state, which former President Donald Trump won twice by 8 percentage points.

Just before 10:30 p.m. ET, DeWine was leading his challengers by more than 20 points.

"Elections are about the future," DeWine said at an election night event following his victory. "And that's what this election is about."

"We've made great, great strides," he added. We have fought and won for the state of Ohio every single day. We're going to continue to fight and win for the state of Ohio."

Trump did not get involved in Ohio’s primary for governor. But it wasn’t for lack of effort on the part of former Rep. Jim Renacci, who had hoped to draw his attention and endorsement by hiring former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale as a top adviser. 

Although Renacci had served in Congress and ran statewide as an unsuccessful Senate candidate in 2018, political novice Joe Blystone — a farmer and restaurateur recognizable by his signature cowboy hat and long beard — waged a surprisingly strong campaign that split the anti-DeWine vote. A fourth candidate, former state legislator Ron Hood, was less of a factor. 

DeWine was one of the first governors in the country to close schools and businesses in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. At first, his approach earned bipartisan praise and boosted his approval ratings. Eventually, the base of his party grew restless with the mandates. As DeWine pulled back, Democrats accused him of caving in to pro-Trump extremists on the right wing.

“I think we had a very balanced approach where we want to protect lives and also protect people’s livelihoods,” DeWine said in an interview last week.

DeWine will face Democrat Nan Whaley, the former mayor of Dayton, in November, NBC News projected Tuesday.

The Republican Governors Association said in a statement that it is "more clear than ever that Mike DeWine is the best choice to lead the state forward."

"Governor DeWine helped the state overcome challenging circumstances in pursuit of a more prosperous future for all Ohioans, and we look forward to him earning re-election this fall," Executive Director Dave Rexrode said in a statement.

Renacci and other Republicans lumped DeWine’s pandemic moves in with those made by liberal Democratic governors such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo, who resigned last year after sexual harassment allegations surfaced, and California’s Gavin Newsom, who survived a recall vote last year. Early last year, Ohio’s GOP-controlled Legislature passed a law — and then overrode DeWine’s veto of it — that limits the power a governor has to manage public health crises.

DeWine’s efforts to reinforce his conservatism included his decision to send State Highway Patrol troopers to the U.S.-Mexico border and campaign ads that railed against President Joe Biden and inflation. He also held up Intel’s plans to build a $20 billion semiconductor plant in the Columbus suburbs, which will be aided by a substantial package of state incentives, as a sign that Ohio remains business-friendly.

The clash DeWine faced in Ohio mirrored one faced this year by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who in his bid for a third term fended off challengers on the right who were unhappy with how he handled the pandemic. Abbott, who had Trump’s endorsement, won his primary easily. Abbott endorsed DeWine last month.