COLUMBUS — Four years ago, then-U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine was staring at an Ohio Democratic voter wave that swept him and nearly every other Republican from statewide office.
Now polls suggest the wind may be at his and other Republicans' backs as he seeks a return to public life as Ohio attorney general.
"People were mad in '06," Mr. DeWine said. "I would have people come up to me and say, ‘DeWine, I like what you're doing, but I'm not voting for you. We're going to send the President a message.' That's what the atmosphere was. Today it is different. People are not happy with incumbents. They're not particularly happy with any party."
The former U.S. senator, congressman, lieutenant governor, state senator, and Greene County prosecutor is challenging Democratic incumbent Attorney General Richard Cordray, the Constitution Party's Robert Owens, and Libertarian Marc Allan Feldman.
Mr. Cordray was elected in 2008 to complete the remaining two years left in Democrat Marc Dann's term after his resignation in the wake of a sexual harassment and cronyism scandal in his office.
"Marc Dann was a problem from day one," Mr. DeWine said. "Richard Cordray recommended to the people of the state of Ohio that Marc Dann … was going to make things right for the state … As soon as Marc Dann took office, it was pretty evident that this guy was in over his head … Cordray waited until it was beneficial to him [to call for Mr. Dann's resignation]."
Mr. DeWine, 63, has criticized Mr. Cordray for not joining other states in suing to stop implementation of the mandate that most Americans purchase health insurance under the new federal health-care law. Mr. DeWine has vowed to file such a lawsuit on his first day in office.
"I think [the health-care reform law] is bad for Ohio," Mr. DeWine said. "I think it's going to cost jobs in Ohio. I believe it will cost billions of taxpayer dollars. Those things, in and of themselves, are not enough for an attorney general to file a lawsuit. What is enough is I think it's unconstitutional.
"This is the first time really in our history that we've compelled every citizen of the country to buy a specified product as a condition of citizenship, and if they don't, we want to penalize them, fine them, or tax them," he said.
Mr. Cordray has said he believes such a lawsuit would be a waste of taxpayer money.
"The first thing that he'll do when he takes office is, I guess, deprive people of protections for pre-existing conditions, knock people off their health-care plans," Mr. Cordray said.
"This is a guy who spent 20 years in Congress, never lifted a finger to help anybody else get health care even though he had the taxpayer-funded Cadillac plan the whole time."
Mr. DeWine also accused Mr. Cordray of not doing enough to increase the efficiency of forensics testing in the attorney general's Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation laboratories.
"I will guarantee you, because the state of Ohio's crime lab is not being run correctly, that there are crimes that are committed in this state every single week by people who should be locked up, and the only reason they're out is not because the police don't do a good job, the sheriff doesn't, or the prosecutor doesn't," he said.
It remains unclear how much of a benefit Mr. DeWine will see from the supposed Republican momentum.
Although the choice of the Ohio Republican Party, the closest thing to leadership of the state's Tea Party movement, the Ohio Liberty Council, has endorsed Mr. Owens, a Delaware attorney.
Some conservative elements of the Republican Party have long criticized Mr. DeWine for votes in the U.S. Senate on gun issues as well as being one of the "Gang of 14" that brokered a compromise over the confirmation of federal judges.
Mr. DeWine said he doesn't believe the Owens endorsement will hurt him. "Polling data would indicate we're doing better among Republicans than Richard Cordray is among Democrats," he said. "If you look at the issues of this campaign, the differences are fairly stark."