DeWine was leading Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor 60 percent to 40 percent, with about 98 percent of precincts reporting. National media outlets called the race around 8:30 p.m., shortly after early vote totals came in. Taylor conceded in a phone call to DeWine around 9:20 p.m.
Addressing a crowd of about 400 at a rented event space near Downtown Columbus, DeWine pivoted from the hot-button, partisan issues that defined some of the ads that blanketed Ohio. He said as governor, he'd focus on fighting illegal drugs and improving Ohio's education system to better prepare future workers.
Secretary of State Jon Husted, an ambitious Republican who dropped his own bid for governor in December to join forces with DeWine after concluding he couldn't likely win the race himself, called for party unity in a warm-up speech.
"Republicans, Independents, Democrats, come with us," DeWine said, flanked by members of his and Husted's family. "We need you to be part of this, to be part of creating our new future, this new Ohio that we will forge together."
In conceding the race, Taylor at a separate Columbus event said she will support DeWine and she asked her supporters to vote for him, too.
"We have to win in November, we have to beat Richard Cordray and it's going to require all of us in this room," she said.
DeWine won despite a climate that's has seen voters turn against politicians seen as too close to the political establishment. DeWine in many ways embodies Ohio's political establishment, having held office for 42 years since he was first elected as Greene County prosecutor in 1976.
In an ironic nod to the political environment, one of DeWine's first attack ads, which blanketed Ohio in the weeks leading up to the election, derisively described Taylor, a former state legislator, as a "career politician." DeWine now will go on to November to face Democrat Richard Cordray, whom DeWine beat for the Ohio Attorney General's office in the November 2010 election.
"DeWine was able to thread the needle between being a so-called establishment Republican and also having some appeal to the Trump crowd," said Kyle Kondik, an Ohio native who is the managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.
DeWine also was able to withstand attacks from Taylor, who dipped into her family's personal fortune to buy millions in hard-hitting, negative ads of her own that took aim at DeWine's "liberal" voting record in the U.S. Senate, which included at one point joining Democrats in backing a federal assault-weapons ban and voting for a 2006 comprehensive immigration bill that created a path for legal status for some undocumented immigrants. Many Republicans saw DeWine as potentially vulnerable to these kinds of attacks, and Taylor even used the same media firm and general attack lines Husted would have used against DeWine had he stayed in the race, one Republican said.
Taylor's underdog campaign, run since January by nationally prominent Republican political consultant Jeff Roe, managed to close a sizable polling gap before DeWine pulled away with the race. Republican insiders believe Taylor may have been as close as 10 points away, to the concern of some DeWine allies.
DeWine responded with a substantially larger negative ad blitz that emphasized his endorsements from the Ohio Republican Party and Ohio Right to Life, the anti-abortion group, while attacking Taylor for not supporting Trump in the 2016 election, a result of her ties with outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
In the process of doing so, DeWine spent upwards of $5 million. That's money DeWine won't have for the general election, although DeWine, who is independently wealthy thanks to his family's business holdings, could always self-finance his campaign if he had to.
"She [Taylor] helped Mike DeWine in that she helped him prove he can win in a fight. In some respects, she did him a favor," said one Ohio Republican. "I think primaries make candidates a little stronger. But they also make them a little poorer."
Matt Cox, a Republican lobbyist, said that DeWine likely had hoped to "fly under the radar" more during the primary, particularly after joining up with Husted.
"He joined lawsuits against Obamacare, he did a lot on the opioid crisis and did a lot on rape-kit testing, so the record was there," Cox said. "But spending $5 million in a primary is not a great way to build up toward a general election."
What the future holds for Taylor is unclear. Some Republicans speculated she may return to her career as a certified public accountant. She ran against the Ohio Republican political establishment after it became clear they favored DeWine, and Taylor's no-holds-barred approach to the campaign, which included referring to the state GOP's endorsement meeting in February as "Mike DeWine's kitchen," personally offended many Republican insiders. She also distanced herself from Kasich, who technically had endorsed her candidacy, further alienating remaining Kasich loyalists in the process.
As recently as November, the Republican primary had four well-established candidates — DeWine, Husted, Taylor and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci. But the winnowing of the field began that month.
Before Nov. 29, Husted and an outside group supporting him had spent millions promoting his campaign, with minimal results. So, after a breakfast meeting with DeWine, Husted, who had decided not to wage the sort of negative campaign against DeWine that Taylor did, agreed to join DeWine's team rather than take the loss. The field cleared further in January, a chain of events that began when Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel surprisingly dropped his bid for the U.S. Senate. That led Republicans, including those close to President Donald Trump's political team, to recruit Renacci to run for Senate instead.
The DeWine/Husted merger wasn't without bumps. Each had their own orbits of supporters and campaign staff who weren't necessarily fond of each other. In the weeks before the election, DeWine launched a commercial attacking Taylor for voting for a 2006 tax-reform bill -- which a DeWine ad described as a "$2 billion tax increase" -- while she was in the state legislature. However, Husted as Ohio House Speaker not only voted for that bill, which the nonprofit Tax Foundation found actually was a substantial tax cut, but he shepherded its passage, and touted it as one of his signature accomplishments during his campaign for governor.
But the two painted a unified picture on Tuesday night. Those close to Husted said he approved of the attack, and that he had committed himself to enthusiastically supporting DeWine. In his introductory speech, Husted, a former college football star, used a sports metaphor to describe his team's primary victory Tuesday night.
"Tonight, we made it to the playoffs, but November is the Super Bowl," Husted said.
Capitol Letter reporter Laura Hancock contributed to this story
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