COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - As predictions increasingly fashion next year's gubernatorial race as a faceoff between Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine, a question smolders: Wasn't this supposed to be the year of the woman?
In other states, female candidates are seizing on post-Hillary Clinton outrage and a wave of sexual harassment allegations against powerful men to bolster their campaigns. In Ohio, a national bellwether state that backed Donald Trump over Clinton last year, the prospects for a female candidate winning the governor's race don't appear bright.
Cordray's long-awaited entry into the Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday, and his apparent support from former President Barack Obama and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the odds of the three female Democratic candidates - former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and former state Rep. Connie Pillich - winning next year's primary appear to have gotten longer.
On the Republican side, when DeWine, the state attorney general, and Secretary of State Jon Husted, consolidated their campaigns on Nov. 30, the move was interpreted as an attempt to intimidate the other two GOP candidates into leaving the race.
One of those candidates is Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, the only woman currently holding a statewide non-judicial office in Ohio and the only Republican woman remaining in any 2018 statewide race.
Energized by January's Women's March following Clinton's defeat, a group of Ohio women in May organized a nonpartisan political action committee, The Matriots, to support Ohio female candidates.
Matriots treasurer Sally Crane Cox, a former newspaper publisher, said women have never exceeded 25 percent representation in the Ohio General Assembly and the state has never elected a female U.S. senator or governor.
"What we feel is that issues that have been categorized as 'women's issues' can fall under the larger umbrella of 'economic justice,' " she said. "The fact that women have never participated fully, or equally, in Ohio politically is the area where we need to concentrate right now."
Asked about the prospect of an all-white, all-male GOP ticket next year, DeWine said he has always placed women in influential roles within operations he leads. He is a former U.S. senator and lieutenant governor.
"I'll guarantee that when you look at our Cabinet, we're going to pick from the best and brightest around the state of Ohio," DeWine said, answering a question on the day he announced Husted would be his running mate. "They're going to be people that are going to surprise you that are taking jobs, and it's going to be a very diverse Cabinet."
Taylor defiantly announced that day that she wouldn't be forced out of the race.
"The Republican Party talks a lot about diversity, but I believe that it's time that we stepped up and started reflecting it in our elected officials," Taylor said in an interview with The Associated Press.
She called the details of how women were treated by powerful men in the ongoing sexual harassment scandals "absolutely outrageous."
Elizabeth "Liz" Walters, a former Ohio Democratic Party executive director, said the women's vote - as it always is - will be significant next year.
"Women are a very dominant voting bloc in Ohio, generally," she said. "The Ohio electorate is close to 60 percent women in the general (election), and for the Democratic Party, that's even higher."
Walters is concerned that Sutton, Whaley and Pillich are being pushed aside by Cordray, who political analysts think is the Democrats' best of hope of being elected governor.
"The people of Ohio, the voters of Ohio, the women of Ohio want someone who's going to fight for them," Walters said. "Now, the best choices for those fighters are the women running for this office. They've done the work, they've made their case."
Cox said Matriots PAC has already raised $550,000 since its launch and anticipates endorsing a woman in the gubernatorial primary.