GROVE CITY, Ohio (AP) — Former consumer watchdog Richard Cordray said Tuesday that he will focus his campaign for governor on improving the lives of Ohio’s families and maintain a tone unlike the one he encountered in Washington.
At a hometown diner called Lilly’s Kitchen Table crowded with press and supporters, Cordray, 58, said he will focus on “kitchen table issues,” including the costs of health care and college, finding a better job and saving for retirement.
He also pledged to restore power to local governments that have seen cuts from Ohio’s Republican-led Legislature.
“I will deliver results, and I’ll do it the Ohio way — the way I’ve always done things,” he said. “Not by stirring conflict, sowing division or pitting people against one another. We’re seeing way too much of that from Washington, D.C.”
Many view Cordray as among the Democrats’ strongest contenders to seize a critical swing state from Republicans next year. GOP Gov. John Kasich is term-limited and unable to seek re-election.
Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine’s rival campaign, with Secretary of State Jon Husted recently announced as a running mate, painted a picture of a chaotic Democratic field.
“Richard Cordray is the sixth candidate in the Democratic primary for governor fighting to bring failed liberal policies to Ohio,” said spokesman Ryan Stubenrauch. “Cordray first has to defend his record in Washington to his fellow Democrats.”
Cordray has faced criticism from fellow Democrats for resigning last month as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a key Obama-era holdout under Republican President Donald Trump. Republicans, meanwhile, hit him relentlessly with accusations of exploiting his federal office to position for an upcoming political run and with heading an agency whose structure and mission many oppose.
Cordray said Tuesday that the timing of his departure from the consumer agency balanced a call from former President Barack Obama, who appointed him, to “stay at it and keep fighting” and his interest in getting started on a run for governor in his home state.
“Although I could feel in my bones as the year went on that I should be somewhere else, getting started on doing something else, I needed to finish my work properly there and be satisfied that I wouldn’t regret for the rest of life things that we put years of work in — like the payday lending rule, which we finalized this fall,” he said.
He said he could sense an even bigger fight brewing back in Ohio, though.
“It was a fight that we’re seeing is over the soul of America, in terms of how we handle our politics, how we handle our communities, how we treat one another,” Cordray said.
Cordray said he doesn’t consider that he has been “in Washington” the past six years, rather choosing to commute back and forth to Grove City, a Columbus suburb, each weekend.
“I never became a creature of Washington,” he said. “It always was strange to me. I found that I developed new allergies when I went there, and I thought that maybe that was the very best reaction I could have had.”
Republican ex-Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a policy adviser to the Trump transition team, urged Ohio voters to closely examine Cordray’s record as consumer chief.
In a statement, he said Cordray “used and abused his power as director to punish consumers and small businesses for his own political gain.”
“Under his direction, the CFPB levied billions of dollars in fines which went to fund liberal interest groups and put the squeeze on consumers by cutting them off from access to basic financial services,” he said.
Cordray said under his tenure the bureau was built from a small new agency into a formidable “force for good” that helped consumers and held financial institutions accountable.