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COVID-19 crisis spotlights unlikely leaders

During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has been described as “an unlikely leader,” and has gotten mostly approval from national media for his handling of it.

Likewise, DeWine’s counterpart in New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has been receiving rave media coverage.

The comparison of these two governors is odd and probably could not have been predicted. But like it or not, each has been relentless in his response to the health crisis, and for that, each has increasingly received glowing media attention, growing familiarity among Americans and, according to most media coverage, approval.

A March 16 Washington Post story was headlined, “Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s coronavirus response has become a national guide to the crisis.”

Also last week, CNN.com said, “As one of the most proactive governors dealing with the novel coronavirus, (DeWine) has stepped into a national spotlight that he hasn’t sought out.” And The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported on a new poll indicating, that “broad swaths” of Ohio voters approve of DeWine’s pandemic response.

Cuomo, too, is receiving a fair share of national media coverage these days.

“In Coronavirus Response, Andrew Cuomo Wins Over Past Critics,” said a March Wall Street Journal headline. Politico magazine reported Cuomo is “experiencing a reputational renaissance rivaling Rudy Giuliani’s after Sept. 11.” And the New York Post ran a story headlined, “New York women are coronavirus crushing on Andrew Cuomo: ‘Is he single?”’

The lead of that story? “He’s the new Luv Guv.” (I’m not making that up.)

Aside from both being career politicians, the approach and demeanors of these two governors vary widely.

In my past meetings with DeWine, I witnessed his calmness and an almost paternal demeanor. That could be the reason other journalists have described DeWine as “bland” and even “nerdy.” He speaks matter-of-factly and carries strong Midwestern values. Certainly, he is a family man.

Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich reflected on his successor’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic to

BuzzFeed reporter Henry Gomez like this: “I think he’s treating Ohio like he would treat his own

family.”

DeWine travels often with Fran, his wife of 52 years, and more than once, he brought her into meetings with this newspaper’s editorial board — something I can never recall happening with any other politician or candidate. Fran DeWine also often appears on camera during her husband’s press conferences, including his daily 2 p.m. coronavirus briefings.

Conversely, Cuomo, a divorcee, is usually viewed as a New York tough guy. A recent article in the Columbia Journalism Review described Cuomo as a “motorcycle-riding, automobile-fixing tough guy, a political brawler who is unafraid to confront liberal Democrats.” He calls himself a “pragmatic progressive.”

Despite their differences, both governors have approached the coronavirus head-on, ignoring critics (to be sure, each has critics) and potential roadblocks.

DeWine suffered heavy criticism for his last-minute bungling of the cancellation of the March 17 Ohio primary election. In the end, though, he forged on with what he believed was right, not allowing even the courts to stop him from putting off the election in the name of public health.

With more than 52,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, New York now is being called the new northern Italy, the European epicenter for the pandemic. That has led to Cuomo being criticized for not foreseeing the coming crisis and better preparing his state. But he, too, pushes forward with public appearances and briefings about New York’s plans and demands for federal assistance.

Nationwide, the United States last week surpassed every other country in number of COVID-19 cases. More than 103,000 cases are now reported nationwide; about 1,400 are in Ohio.

Absolutely, this situation is frightening. But this, too, shall pass, and I know we will prevail.

Like one Ohio mayor said this month in a Washington Post story about DeWine, you can agree or disagree with him. But either way, “he can lead.”

blinert@tribtoday.com

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