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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine re-elected to second term, NBC News projects

DeWine, a fixture of the GOP establishment, defeated Democrat Nan Whaley, a former Dayton mayor who made abortion rights central to her campaign.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has secured a second term, NBC News projects, defeating Democratic challenger Nan Whaley, the former mayor of Dayton.

DeWine, 75, is a fixture of the state’s Republican establishment whose leadership in the early days of the pandemic earned admiration from independents and Democrats. As he ran for re-election, he emphasized economic development, particularly Intel Corp.’s $20 billion commitment to build semiconductor factories in the Columbus area.

Whaley, 46, has long been seen as a rising star in Democratic politics. She led the U.S. Conference of Mayors and received national attention after she led Dayton through a tragic mass shooting in 2019. But she struggled to gain traction against DeWine, a known quantity who didn't owe his success in GOP politics to Donald Trump and could not easily be painted as an unflinching ally of the former president.

"I will continue to push forward and to lead and to talk about the things that we have to do," DeWine said in his victory speech at a Columbus hotel, with his wife, Fran, and their many children and grandchildren flanking them on stage.

"Our goal for every person in this state is to live up to their god-given potential, to remove all barriers that are hindering them from doing that."

Whaley, the first woman to win a major party's nomination for governor in Ohio, conceded shortly after 9:30 p.m. at an event with supporters in Dayton.

"The last 20 months have been filled with high and lows," Whaley said in a statement from her campaign. "And while tonight wasn’t the high we had hoped for, I still believe in Ohio. I still believe that our citizens deserve better than what they’re getting. And believe in the people of this state to get us there. I’m going to keep fighting for Ohio, and I know you will too."

Data consistently showed DeWine leading by wide margins. The crowd at the Ohio Republican Party's watch party with DeWine and Senate candidate J.D. Vance briefly erupted in cheers when the race was called moments after polls closed, although the latter's race carries more suspense. Vance went on to defeat Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, NBC News projects.

"We all know what happened here in Ohio," Bob Paduchik, the Ohio GOP chair, told the audience after DeWine's win was called. "We have a mandate for continued Republican leadership in the state for the next four years."

Democrats had hoped an alleged pay-to-play scandal involving a bailout of the state’s nuclear industry would be DeWine’s undoing. But tying him directly to any wrongdoing proved a challenge, and the attacks never stuck.

Whaley accentuated a variety of other issues, including the economy and gun violence, before she ultimately settled on abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. DeWine is staunchly anti-abortion and had signed a law outlawing the procedure after six weeks.

“We’re not asking our leaders for a lot here,” Whaley said in a 15-second ad her campaign aired in September. “We simply believe women deserve the freedom to decide what’s right for our bodies, our families and our future.”

At times, whatever questions there were about DeWine’s re-election prospects centered more on Republicans still angry with his pandemic restrictions. DeWine was among the first governors to close schools and businesses in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Although his approach initially drew bipartisan praise and higher approval ratings, the GOP base grew restless with the mandates. And as DeWine reopened Ohio, Democrats accused him of caving to pro-Trump extremists.

Trump, at an election eve rally Monday for Vance and other Ohio Republicans, called DeWine to the stage. Many in the crowd showered him with boos.

A trio of right-wing challengers kept DeWine from winning a majority in May’s GOP primary. But his opponents never had the opportunity to directly press him on the issues in a public forum, just like Whaley never had the chance in the general election. DeWine refused all invitations to debate. The closest he came was a joint interview last month with the editorial board of The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com — held via a hard-to-follow videoconference

"We're moving forward," DeWine said at the end of his victory speech. "We have work to do. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to lead you."