CLEVELAND — You can call Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray a nerd (he’s a five-time “Jeopardy!” champion who likes to tweet state trivia).
You can even call him boring (asked by the Columbus Dispatch to name his favorite beer, wine or liquor he answered, “grapefruit juice”).
Just don’t call him a bureaucrat.
For five years, Cordray, 59, headed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal agency created after the 2008 financial crisis to protect Americans in the marketplace for credit cards, mortgages, student loans and other products.
Now, in a closely fought and increasingly nasty race, his experience as the bureau’s first director forms the foundation of his campaign.
In this crucial swing state, Cordray’s race against Republican Mike DeWine, the state’s attorney general, serves as a road test of themes that Democrats would like to drive into the 2020 presidential race.
They hope that sharp criticism of banks and other big corporations along with support for tighter financial regulations and consumer protections will counter President Donald Trump’s appeal to blue-collar, white voters.
So far, Cordray’s Washington experience has delivered high-wattage support from former President Obama, who tapped him to lead the CFPB, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who first hired him for a senior position when she was launching the agency.
What remains unknown is whether that consumer watchdog background can deliver a majority of voters in a state that Trump won handily in 2016.
DeWine has countered Cordray’s consumer appeals with charges of mismanagement, regulatory overreach and bureaucracy run amok at the agency.
So although Cordray proudly touts his CFPB experience in speeches, debates and TV ads, he bristles at the suggestion that he was just another inside-the-Beltway paper-pusher.
“I wasn’t a Washington bureaucrat. I was consumer watchdog, a very different thing for people,” Cordray said after folding his rangy frame — he’s a 6-foot-2-inch former semi-pro basketball player — into a wooden chair in a Starbucks in downtown Cleveland one morning this month.
“They know that some people are very bureaucratic, they’re stagnant, they’re not moving the ball on the status quo,” he continued. “What we were doing was changing a lot of things for a lot of Americans.”
He repeated a line he uses frequently in the campaign: Under his watch, the CFPB provided 30 million Americans a total of about $12 billion in refunds and debt relief from banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions.
The party that wins the race in Ohio will gain an advantage in the 2020 presidential election by being able to tap the incumbent governor’s political apparatus. More important, the next governor will oversee the congressional redistricting that takes place after the…