COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – For Gov. Mike DeWine to win re-election, he first has to stave off challengers running to his right.

Former Northeast Ohio Congressman Jim Renacci and Canal Winchester farmer Joe Blystone are DeWine’s top opponents, trying to convince voters they have more conservative credibility.

Former state lawmaker Ron Hood is also running, but he has polled in the low single digits since his late entry.

Candidates’ top issues

Mike DeWine

DeWine, 74, is seeking a second term as governor, trying to extend a political career that has also included state lawmaker, U.S. Senator and state attorney general.

Since elected in 2018, he’s overseen Ohio’s COVID-19 response, which began as one of America’s more proactive but is now typical of a purple state. The country’s 9th-most popular governor, DeWine has been criticized by both parties but can point to bipartisan victories.

Accomplishments noted on his campaign website include business investment (like the $20 billion Intel factory coming to Licking County), tax cuts, chipping away at legalized abortion and relaxing some gun restrictions.

Jim Renacci

Renacci, 63, served in Congress from 2011 through 2018, and he lost the 2020 U.S. Senate election to Sherrod Brown by six percentage points. He was Ohio’s wealthiest member of Congress in 2016, per political newspaper Roll Call, worth more than $34 million.

The former Congressman’s policy proposals on his website are more specific than Blystone’s, whom polling shows is Renacci’s top challenger for the anti-DeWine vote.

Former Rep. Jim Renacci R-Ohio and candidate for governor speaks during a Save our Schools Town Hall in Hilliard, Ohio, Monday, April 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Among Renacci’s plans are eliminating Common Core in Ohio schools, decreasing the size of the state education department, eliminating the Kasich administration’s Medicaid expansion and getting rid of JobsOhio, the state’s private economic development arm.

Renacci also wants to reform Ohio’s pension system and move some state operations out of Columbus so to invest in smaller cities.

Joe Blystone

Blystone is the only candidate with no political experience, but that doesn’t seem to be hurting the Columbus-area farmer in the polls.

Policy proposals he highlights include reviewing Ohio’s tax structure, outlawing abortion “in all but the most rare and heart wrenching cases” in the absence of Roe v. Wade, and supporting the “Backpack Bill” that proposes Ohio parents pay taxes to the school their child attends and not where they live.

Joe Blystone
Joe Blystone is interviewed by NBC4’s Colleen Marshall.

Ohio’s restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic also led Blystone to promising a ban of all vaccine mandates.

Blystone ran into some campaign finance difficulties in March, as the Ohio Secretary of State’s office ordered him to refund $100,000 in donations for violating limits on cash donations and bans on corporate contributions.

Ron Hood

Hood, 52, most recently represented a rural area southeast of Columbus in the Ohio House from 2013 to 2020. He announced his candidacy right before the filing deadline in February.

FILE – In this May 6, 2015 file photo, State Rep. Ron Hood, right, answers a question about his proposal to allow residents to carry a concealed weapon without first having to have a permit, with his co-sponsor, Rep. Tom Brinkman in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins, File)

On the issues, Hood is mostly vague with proposals on his website. Broadly, he wants to tighten Ohio’s election laws, cut state spending and make changes to economic development, education and health care.

Notable policies Hood supported in the state legislature include an abortion ban in 2019 and a “heartbeat bill” in 2018.

Polling shows split race

The latest poll of the race, released April 14 by the Trafalgar Group, shows Renacci (26%) and Blystone (24%) splitting the anti-DeWine vote, with the governor coming in at 40% and 1 in 10 voters still undecided.

There has been no debate in this primary race, nor is one scheduled. DeWine and Renacci declined the Ohio Debate Commission’s invitation for a debate in late March. The Democratic governor candidates, as well as the two sides of Ohio’s U.S. Senate race did debate.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted stays as DeWine’s running mate, while Renacci chose Christian film producer Joe Knopp, Blystone chose author and veteran Jeremiah Workman, and Hood chose former state Rep. Candice Keller.

Although former President Donald Trump endorsed in Ohio’s U.S. Senate primary by picking JD Vance, he has not endorsed a gubernatorial candidate.

Previewing the major races in Ohio’s May primary election

The week of April 17, is running a series of previewing races