In a political career that started in 1978 and continues to this day, the professional performance politician that is Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich has never lost an election. The brash, energetic disciple of Reagan/Kemp supply side economics, which critics of Kasich say never has and never will work as apostles like him says theory prescribes, has yet to taste the sour grapes of electoral defeat.
From his first elected office win as a young Republican warrior in the Ohio Senate to his extremely narrow win in 2010 over former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, Kasich has always been the predator, hunting down and bagging whomever dared oppose him in his reliably conservative central Ohio congressional district.
Winning a second and final term as governor of Ohio next year is a near certainty to Team Kasich, which surfed to a win in 2010 when the rising tide of Tea Party anger carried Kasich and every other Republicans to wins over their Democratic incumbents of the day. Those Democrats were likewise given a shot at their respective statewide agencies in 2006, when Ohio voters, fed up with Republican scandals that included a pay-to-play conviction of a political operative Kasich has since picked to run the Ohio Republican Party and the Coingate affair at the state's workers' compensation fund that is still awaiting a full and final accounting by state watchdogs, booted out the corrupt GOP officials and installed Democrats who promised to perform differently.
With about 289,000 fewer voters voting in 2010 than in 2008, the year the nation elected a little known African-American senator from Illinois President of the United States, the slim win by then citizen Kasich could easily have gone the other way. But Strickland was terminally snake-bit by the ravages of the Great Recession, which started and ended on his watch, as Buckeye jobs disappeared by the hundreds of thousands. By the time Kasich started his campaign that promised a "New day, new way," the new day was already on its way. Kasich has just been responsible for the "new way" and that could be a problem.
When John Kasich retired in 2000 after breezing to wins in nine consecutive congressional elections—serving as Chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee in the years after the Contract with America authored by then Georgia Congressman New Gingrich returned control of the U.S. House of Representatives for Republicans for most of the Clinton years—he found employment for six years at Lehman Brothers, the fourth largest of Wall Street's big banking firms. When Lehman failed, it triggered the explosion of the housing market, which led the nation into an economic depression second only to the Great Recession of the 1930s that continues in many ways to this day.
After all those years of playing the predator, Gov. Kasich oddly finds himself playing the prey today, as Ohio's midterm election for state CEO picks up speed in preparation for next year, when Democrats hope voter turnout looks more like 2012 than 2010, when then citizen Kasich squeaked by Strickland in a low turnout election in an off-year election.
Kasich's ego has no room for doubts that a Democratic challenger, who appears to be a little known government executive from Cuyahoga County, can win next year. Winning Ohio's most populous county big time, as the Democrat's all-but-nominated challenger Ed FitzGerald needs to do, will effectively nullify all the votes of all the Republicans from the overwhelming majority of the state's rural counties whose fiscal and social conservatism can be counted on to vote the GOP ticket.
But that formula may not work for Kasich next year as in the past. A hint of that comes from Gov. Kasich's irritated interactions with the statehouse press corps, which Kasich doesn't much like but tolerates by tradition. Kasich's role as the undaunted prey instead of the predictable predator is a good sign for Democrats and FitzGerald.
But Ohio Tea Party activists, who supported Kasich in 2010 and who have since turned against him over issues like expanding Medicaid, are painting Kasich as a co-conspirator with Obama on its expansion and being weak kneed on right to work legislation. Raising state taxes and signing the biggest spending budget in Ohio history offer ultra-conservatives more reasons to open a new political battlefront against the "speed of business" governor. Tea Party activists like Tom Zawistowski, who got trounced when he stood for leader the state Republican Party and claims Kasich would have lost had it not been for his support three years ago, have another new candidate to rally behind.
Libertarian candidate Charlie Earl, no stranger to Ohio politics, having served in the General Assembly and mounted a failed campaign for Secretary of State in 2010, hopes to be on the ballot next year and included in any debates arranged between Kasich and FitzGerald. It's no secret that Democrats and Tea Party advocates believe that Kasich's narrow win margin in 2010—49-percent of 49-percent of the vote turnout or 2 percent points over Strickland—is thin ice indeed for Team Kasich. Skating to a win in an off-year election like they did last time may not be as easy next year, when Democrats hope to reawaken the sleeping giant that was the coalition of progressive and union-sympathetic groups that smashed Gov. Kasich's radical attempt—SB 5—to erode long-standing collective bargaining law for public sector workers.
The extent to which a refocused Obama campaign machine can further drive up vote turnout has yet to be determined. But that wild card, if played correctly, could both trump and out efforts by Team Kasich to frame the governor as a political moderate fighting for the public interest against the crazies of his party..
A year after Kasich took to the stump for Mitt Romney, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts and private equity guru who got swamped by Obama voters in 2012, the same issues are at play again in Ohio a year later. But while many issues remain the same—taxes, education, jobs, government spending—Kasich has a new battle front to defend based on a raft of bills and budgets he's signed into law that have angered his political foes, right and left.
The new battlefront is about many things, but above them all stands Kasich's private, nonprofit job creation engine, JobsOhio. That question is easily framed: is it working?
Jobs numbers for August, the most recent month the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services have reported, show Ohio lost 8,200 more jobs, a setback that brought the state's unemployment rate up to match the national rate, something that hasn't occurred over the last 14 months. Kasich hammered Strickland for losing more than 400,000 jobs during his single term as state CEO [2007-2010], but the numbers show that Ohio under Strickland had already begun to climb out of the deep economic hole the Great Recession put Ohio in.
For obvious reasons, Kasich only focused on Strickland's record, because had he broadened his scope on history, he would have had to include indicts for Republicans at the state level—whose complete rule of the state from executive offices to the legislature was total from 1994 to 2006—for policies and programs he didn't criticize at the time that had already put Ohio behind the economic Eight Ball by the time Strickland moved into the Governor's Mansion in January of 2007.
A story line that has yet to gain traction with Ohio media is the massive borrowing Gov. Kasich has pushed at every turn of his term. From JobsOhio to the Ohio Turnpike, Gov. Kasich seems not to have learned the lesson of his former employer Lehman Brothers, where he worked for six years as a managing director after he retired from Congress in 2000 and after his short-lived campaign for president vanished before his eyes after George W. Bush was anointed the GOP nominee.
The biggest of reasons for why Lehman Brothers failed was its leverage or borrowed money, with few assets for balance. When Lehman with his high leverage position failed, it it sparked the fuse that eventually exploded the Wall Street bomb of leverage that years later is still taking a toll on Ohio and the nation.
Kasich finds himself on the defense now as issues of secrecy, transparency and insider deals mount. And those rural Republican counties, that the GOP ticket relies on election-in and election-out, may not be there in the numbers they would like if members of the base come to believe that Kasich has pulled one over on them. The GOP base doesn't like Democrats, but they really don't like being played for chumps..
Not helping his narrative that his policies and programs are responsible for an economic turnaround, dubbed by Team Kasich as the "Ohio miracle," are the following job statistics that show that the miracle might be more of a mirage:
Ohio ranked second nationally for the number of jobs lost in August, the Labor Department reported Friday. Ohio's unemployment rate ticked up to 7.3 percent in August, as the state lost 8,200 jobs.
Ohio has now gone 14 consecutive months with Ohio's rate of job growth below the USA national average.
Ohio's labor force estimate fell by 13,000. A decreasing labor force is often a sign that the number of discouraged workers is on the rise -- people who give up looking for work.
The BLS and ODJFS figures showed Ohio's jobless hasn't changed in a year. The August jobless figure is Ohio's highest unemployment rate since June 2012's 7.3 percent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. "The data are very disappointing and damaging across the board," George Zeller, a Cleveland economic research analyst, told the PD. "This is not just an August problem, it has been going on for more than a year now."
How many more angry old white men the GOP can turn out to vote next year is problematic. For Democrats, though, turning out more voters represents a new rich vein to mine, one that if they can hit pay dirt can put FitzGerald over Kasich by a wide margin in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.
Based on voting statistics from last year's presidential race, Romney got upwards of 80-plus percent of GOP votes in Cuyahoga County while the turnout for Obama among registered voters, which itself was at a record high, can be mined to produce even more votes. In light of how Romney ran there last year, Kasich and Republicans have much work and money to spend to turn out a fraction more voters. Democrats, on the other hand, have thousands more citizens who are not registered voters but who could be and thousands more who are registered to vote but who didn't vote.
Kasich's new two-year budget, bursting with harsh restrictions for abortion and women's health rights, tax hikes and spending cuts that still leave cities, counties and school systems short of necessary funding in the name of balancing the state budget, is the kind of piñata Democrats and Libertarians alike will whack to disgorge its contents. What falls out becomes more ammunition for Democrats, Libertarians and Tea Party evangelists to fire at Kasich when hunting season on him official starts next February, the month when candidates file their campaign papers.
Kasich bristled recently when asked about why a respected pollster—Public Policy Polling—who polled Ohio voters on Kasich and his bid for a second term have the feisty and often irritated governor running three points behind the widely unheard of FitzGerald. It's no secret that Kasich sees his years as governor as a stepping stone back to the national limelight. While he derided "head winds from Washington" last year as an excuse for Ohio not performing better, trading out Ohio's press corps for the national press corps in Washington would be a dream come true for a 61-year old man, whose bus to the White House will be boarding the day after he wins a second term.
Democrats and third-party candidates can only hope that Kasich becomes a victim of his own policies and programs. This would make their job of toppling him easier. But even if it turns out that Kasich is indeed the hunted and not the hunter, he remains formidable. Netting Kasich, while doable, remains to be seen.
Gov. Kasich is, after all, the biggest fish in Ohio's political fish bowl.
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