The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau remains deeply divisive inside the Beltway, and this year’s gubernatorial race in Ohio may show just how far that partisan divide extends.

Democratic nominee Richard Cordray, the agency’s former director, won his primary against Dennis Kucinich and several other contenders by a wide margin Tuesday night.

Cordray has already built a platform around his six-year tenure at the agency, in addition to his time as the state’s attorney general. The December video ad announcing his candidacy kicks off with a clip of former President Obama asserting that “Americans are better off because of what Rich has done as our consumer watchdog.”

CFPB Director Richard Cordray
The former CFPB director will need to defend his time in Washington and the agency itself in the Ohio governor's race. Bloomberg News

Now the former CFPB director’s experiences in Washington are likely to be put center stage as the race heats up.

“The CFPB remains a lightning rod,” said Isaac Boltansky, director of policy research at Compass Point Research & Trading. “It will play a prominent a role in the general election.”

Observers got an early taste Wednesday morning for what might lay ahead, when President Trump tweeted to congratulate Cordray’s Republican opponent Mike DeWine, calling the former CFPB chief a “socialist” who was a “big failure in [his] last job.”

Cordray soon shot back, touting the $12 billion in relief he returned to consumers during his time at the agency.


The state’s Republican Party chair, Jane Timken, also slammed Cordray after the primary results rolled in, describing him in a Tuesday night statement as one of Democrats’ “far-left ideologues … who have aligned themselves with Elizabeth Warren and the so-called ‘resistance.’ ”

Warren, the Massachusetts senator and founder of the CFPB, joined Cordray on the campaign trail last month, helping to bolster his support among progressive voters ahead of the primary.

Although Cordray’s leadership will be one issue among many — jobs, education and the opioid crisis will also be high on the agenda for both candidates — the race is likely to force the former CFPB director to defend his time at the agency. And by extension, he’ll be forced to defend the agency’s very existence — even as his successor, acting Director Mick Mulvaney, works to dismantle some of the bureau’s key functions.

While the Ohio Democrat has often relied on high-level posturing — citing the billions of dollars he’s won back for consumers — he’s already begun, at the advice of supporters, to personalize his defense of the bureau.

“I assume you'll see him do more of that in the general campaign — more commercials that bring in real cases and real people,” said Herb Asher, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University. “That’s more likely to happen the more Republicans attack him for his activities in Washington.”

Whether the approach is enough to help Cordray win the race in a Republican-led state that President Trump won by eight points remains to be seen.

CFPB has become a litmus test for policymakers in Washington, and while it will hardly be the only issue up for debate, it’s going to have an impact in Ohio.

Victoria Finkle

Victoria Finkle

Victoria Finkle is deputy Washington bureau chief and editor of American Banker's op-ed blog, BankThink.

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