His aggressive moves that won early praise have tilted toward
messages of personal responsibility, following the direction of
governors in Republican-leaning states who resisted wide
crackdowns. But now that the virus is surging again in Ohio,
DeWine is taking what he calls a ``surgical, precise approach''
by requiring masks in just the hardest-hit counties even as some
states are issuing wider and stricter measures.
The question is: Can this balancing act work?
It's a strategy that has encountered criticism from all sides:
those who think that his edicts have gone too far and those who
believe he's backed down from protecting the public.
``The same people who are telling me this mask mandate is crazy,
are the same people who are saying to me, well, you can't shut
business down,'' DeWine, 73, said in an interview with The
Associated Press last week. ``I agree we have to keep business
open, but their failure to wear a mask does not help businesses
In a televised address Wednesday, DeWine appealed to Ohioans on
an emotional level to make ``once-in-a-hundred year sacrifices''
to protect their neighbors—whether or not the government
requires them to do so.
With allusions to the death tolls taken by the Spanish flu
epidemic and the Vietnam War, he implored Ohioans to wear face
coverings at all times when they're in public, but issued no
mandate. He said the strategy over four to six weeks ``could
drive this epidemic to the ground.''
``Friends, this is not a drill. It certainly is not any hoax.
This is not a dress rehearsal,'' he said, predicting disaster as
has been seen in New York, Florida and Arizona if people don't
take action now.
Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper
wrote on Twitter that DeWine's refusal to require masks
statewide was ``absolutely unacceptable and inexplicable'' when
other states with fewer cases already have done so.
DeWine, who has been elected to almost every position in Ohio
during a 40-year political career, has consistently warned of
the dangers of the virus while standing alongside a
knowledgeable health director, Dr. Amy Acton, who
resigned last month amid harsh pushback for exercising her
emergency powers to close businesses and keep people home for
But DeWine has wavered on mask-wearing. In April, he announced a
statewide requirement inside all businesses and then changed his
mind the next day, dropping the order for customers, saying
people found the idea ``offensive.'' That's forced several Ohio
cities to issue their own mask rules in response to rising case
DeWine has also been careful not to condemn other Republicans,
including President Donald Trump, any time they've
downplayed the threat. When Vice President Mike Pence
stopped at an auto plant in Ohio last month, DeWine stayed away,
explaining that he and his wife were still avoiding crowds.
Ohio isn't a hot spot now, but last week the state saw its
highest daily total of confirmed cases - around 1,500 - since
reopening. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut
recently added Ohio to a list of states whose residents are
asked to quarantine when visiting.
Polls in Ohio have shown Republicans and Democrats alike giving
DeWine high marks for his performance during the outbreak.
Even those who disagree with DeWine's specific policies believe
he's doing what he thinks is best for the state, said Jai
Chabria, a Republican strategist who served as senior
adviser to former Ohio Gov. John Kasich. “And that's a
departure from the way in which they perceive politicians,” he
who lives near Columbus, said she didn't vote for DeWine but was
impressed with the governor's early response. ``I feel now that
he's just bending to the will of politicians and protesters,''
On Wednesday, he reminded Ohioans of those early victories to
get buy-in for wearing masks and staying away from fun summer
activities, including family reunions.
``At the start of this pandemic, Ohioans set an example for the
rest of this country,'' he said. ``You showed the world what is
possible when we work together. I remain an optimist and I truly
believe we will rise out of this.''
Democratic Rep. Stephanie Howse,
leader of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, said DeWine
has gone from leader to politician in recent weeks.
``That's the real shift. That is what happens when you buckle
But it's those in DeWine's own party, who in the past applauded
his strong anti-abortion beliefs, who have been giving him the
A group of county Republican leaders in one of the state's most
reliably conservative regions told DeWine in a letter last month
that his ``big government approach'' had caused wide economic
damage and that ``you have disappointed your party faithful.''
Republicans who control Ohio's Legislature have been just as
vocal, accusing DeWine and his administration of bypassing
lawmakers before effectively shutting down the presidential
primary in March and overstepping his authority while directing
Acton to issue emergency health orders.
House Majority Leader Bill Seitz
called the decisions ``substantial infringements on what we
believe to be the legislative process.``
The criticism may have swayed DeWine from putting broad
restrictions on the economy again, said Senate President
Larry Obhof. ``I think the Legislature would respond very
badly to another attempt at a shutdown,`` he said.
DeWine told the AP he's more worried about the virus than his
Editor’s Note: Seewer reported from Toledo. Amiri is a corps
member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse
News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national
service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to
report on undercovered issues.