As the names of more than a dozen Ohio Democrats swirl in the speculation about the 2018 race for governor, here’s an interesting one to add to the list.
Dennis Kucinich, the former mayor of Cleveland, former congressman and a two-time candidate for president, is the subject of increasing chatter among party insiders.
Republican Gov. John Kasich is term-limited, and at least four prominent GOP office holders are positioning themselves as his successor. The Democratic field is far more scattered. There is no surefire front-runner. And the top prospects — former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of the Youngstown area — might remain on the sidelines.
Here’s the case for Kucinich: He has long been in touch with the populism that President Donald Trump (an anti-free trade protectionist) and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (a democratic socialist) tapped into during their White House campaigns last year. Kucinich, 70, could embrace the Sanders wing of his party while also making a play for Trump Democrats. Trial balloons to that effect might have come in recent weeks when Kucinich praised Trump’s inaugural address and expressed Cold War concerns over the ouster of Michael Flynn as national security adviser.
But those remarks also could hurt Kucinich with establishment Democrats and come back to haunt him if the Ohio electorate turns on Trump. And some Democrats who have heard the Kucinich-for-governor gossip see his recent trip to Syria and meeting there with President Bashar al-Assad, viewed by many as a tyrannical and murderous dictator, as a liability.
Another possible strike against Kucinich: Aside from his involvement in the fight to save Lakewood Hospital, he has kept a relatively low profile in Ohio since losing his congressional seat in 2012 and has not maintained close relationships with the state’s top Democrats. He has worked as a consultant in Washington and as a contributor to the Fox News Channel.
There were whispers in 2014 that Kucinich was considering a last-minute entry to the Democratic primary for governor, perhaps with Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, who was hoping to stop eventual nominee Ed FitzGerald, as his running mate.
The whispers this time around are a bit louder.
“There’s a light buzz about Dennis,” State Rep. Martin J. Sweeney, a Cleveland Democrat and Kucinich ally, acknowledged in a telephone interview with cleveland.com Friday. “People are talking about Dennis and the possibility of running for governor. I find it intriguing.”
Kucinich, when asked this week about running for governor, did not offer a direct answer.
“I’ll certainly get back to you,” he wrote in an email, “if I have anything to say which would be worth your time.”