Mr. and Ms. Popularity


One of the most important political metrics is the approval-disapproval ratings of public officials.

The greater the approval percentage, the more likely an officeholder will get re-elected.

The greater the approval percentage of a non-officeholder, the more likely that person will get elected to public office.

Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has earned skyrocketing approval ratings for his swift and decisive actions to protect the public during the pandemic caused by the spread of the coronavirus. Call him Mr. Popularity.

Public opinion surveys have put DeWine’s approval rating in the 80-89% range, the highest in the country among governors and double the approval rating of Republican President Donald Trump. Interestingly, every governor in the country has an approval rating in their state higher than the president’s.

DeWine looks like a lock for re-election in 2022 if he seeks a second term. If he chooses to “go political” in the fall and campaign for other Republicans in Ohio, even Trump, he will be a powerful influential force because of his popularity.

Mr. Popularity’s approval rating is 20-30% higher than other statewide Republican officeholders such as U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. Both will need DeWine’s coattails to win re-election in 2022.

On the Ohio Democratic Party’s side of the street, an educated guess would be Mr. Popularity is U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, whose approval rating hovers around 50%, very similar to his Senatorial counterpart Portman. Both have disapproval ratings around 40%.

But no, Brown is not Mr. Popularity among the Democrats. In fact there is no Mr. Popularity. There is a Ms. Popularity.

A woman is the most popular Democratic public figure in the state, and she is scaring the crap out of the Republicans. Sen. Portman is so afraid that he praised and defended her the other day as if to protect himself from her opposition in 2022.

Drum roll. The most popular Democrat in the state is one Dr. Amy Acton, Gov. DeWine’s state health director. Her approval rating in the state is in the 70-79% range, leaving Sen. Brown in the proverbial dust.

Right now, Dr. Acton is the Democrats’ best candidate for anything in 2022.

Ms. Popularity has the Republican hierarchy, aside from DeWine, both scared and annoyed.

They are scared because an Acton candidacy in 2022 would be a direct threat to the GOP’s dominance in Ohio. In addition to DeWine and Portman, the GOP controls all statewide administrative offices, both houses of the Legislature and the Ohio Supreme Court.

They are annoyed because DeWine chose Acton, a Democrat and onetime avid campaigner for President Barack Obama, to be a cabinet official and then deigned to listen to her advice and make her a co-star on his afternoon pandemic press conferences that have been widely watched broadcasts across the state.

Acton has proved to be a stellar and likable television performer and a font of incredibly valuable medical and scientific knowledge about how to fight the virus and save Ohioans’ lives.

The typical Republican thinks all Democrats are left-wing boneheads with propeller hats who are incapable of functioning effectively in government. Courtesy of DeWine, Acton has burst that bubble.

Much of the criticism by Ohio Republicans of Acton and demands for her curtailment by legislative fiat or court filings are because the GOP fears the rising Democratic star will become a political thorn in their sides as a Democratic candidate for statewide office in 2022. Acton could help bring about the demise of the GOP’s stranglehold on Ohio government.

All this presupposes that Ms. Popularity is willing to resign the cabinet post from which she has done incredibly good works. Or it assumes that DeWine will someday find her too hot to handle politically and send her packing.

By John K. Hartman

Guest columnist

A resident of Liberty Township, John K. Hartman is an emeritus professor of journalism at Central Michigan University and a member of the CMU Journalism Hall of Fame. In 2019, he was named a distinguished alumnus of the Ashland City Schools. He serves as an alternate on the township zoning board and is a Democratic Party precinct committeeman. He was a member of the Bowling Green Board of Education from 1978-1997. He writes a monthly column for the Columbus Free Press.

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