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3 Republican primary candidates are challenging Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There are primaries in 13 states this month. Today in Ohio, voters will decide nominees in a handful of races, including the gubernatorial race. Republican Governor Mike DeWine faces three challengers, each trying to attract voters frustrated by his pandemic response. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

ANDY CHOW, BYLINE: In his run for reelection, Republican Governor Mike DeWine is touting his record of handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE DEWINE: I believe that we had a proper balance between public safety and also allowing people to make their livelihoods.

CHOW: DeWine was the first governor in the country to shut down K-12 schools as the coronavirus started to spread. He also issued health orders to shut down businesses and implement social distancing requirements.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Open Ohio now.

CHOW: While Ohio was lauded for keeping down the spread of COVID-19, animosity stirred among protesters calling for him to open businesses back up. Now DeWine is the first incumbent governor of Ohio to face a primary challenge since 1978. Republican Jim Renacci is running against the governor. The former congressman says DeWine went too far with his health orders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM RENACCI: When did we start taking away these rights? That's the real issue that I'm hearing as I travel around Ohio, and that's the concern I have, too.

CHOW: Joe Blystone is a farmer and businessman who says he never even thought about running for public office until DeWine's COVID-19 response, which included a statewide mask mandate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOE BLYSTONE: You cover your face up. You stay away from people. Don't send your kids to school. Don't go to church. Our rights was severely stomped on.

CHOW: Former State Representative Ron Hood is also running in the race with a low-profile campaign, rarely doing interviews.

All three challengers are positioning themselves further to the right of DeWine and as the pro-Trump candidate. But former President Donald Trump hasn't endorsed anyone in the gubernatorial race. That's left the challengers splitting the anti-DeWine vote and turning their attacks on each other.

DeWine, who has spent more than 40 years in public service as a Republican, defends his conservative record. He notes that he's signed bills that lifted gun regulations and expanded abortion restrictions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEWINE: So this has been, from a social conservative and a fiscal conservative point of view, a very, very conservative administration.

CHOW: The primary, overall, is expected to have a low turnout, with early voting already lagging behind 2018 numbers.

For NPR News, I'm Andy Chow in Columbus. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.