Midway through his first term, Gov. Kasich, who became governor with only 23.5 percent of registered voters turning out for him in 2010 when the Tea Party movement boosted him and fellow Republicans into statewide offices held by Democrats, is gearing up for a reelection campaign that has already started but will be in full force in the midterm elections of 2014.
The poll surveyed 1,011 registered voters from February 21 - 26 showing the former Republican Congressman, Fox Channel political talk-show host and Lehman Brothers Managing Director reached an all-time high 53 - 32 percent. These results compare favorably to a 42 - 35 percent approval rating the CEO-style governor in a December 11 survey by Quinnipiac, and independent polling firm. It marks the first time Mr. Kasich has posted a positive score.
Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said Democrats will have their work cut out for them if they want to defeat the governor. "What a difference a few months make," Brown said, adding, "Not that long ago, Democrats were licking their lips at the prospect of taking on an unpopular governor who had a disapproval rating in the 50s. Now his job disapproval rating is just 32 percent and his chances of re-election appears to be much better than they were thought to be as recently as December."
Brown said the good news for the Democrats is that Kasich does not get 50 percent of the votes against any of the four potential candidates who have yet to declare their intention to take him on. His consistently good numbers on a number of measurements, Brown said, indicate strength in the electorate.
In an early look at the 2014 reelection race, Gov. Kasich holds 6-point to 10-point leads against each of the four potential contenders for the Democratic nomination to run against him:
45 - 35 percent over Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald;
44 - 38 percent over Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray;
44 - 36 percent over U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan;
45 - 38 percent over former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton.
Kasich has a 48 percent favorable, 32 percent unfavorable rating from Ohio voters. The number of voters who don't know enough about each of his possible challengers to form an opinion ranges from 62 percent to 80 percent.
Brown conceded that Gov. Kasich has a substantial edge when it comes to name identification with the voters compared to his potential challengers. But by a margin of 46 - 36 percent, Ohio voters say the governor deserves a second term. Supporting reelection is 81 percent of Republicans, 47 percent of independent voters and 17 percent of Democrats.
"Voter approval of how Kasich is handling the state budget also has improved, from a split 40 - 40 percent in December to a positive 45 - 39 percent today," Brown added.
Fifty-one to 30 percent of voters say Kasich has kept his campaign promises, another positive for the governor, Quinnipiac noted. When Kasich assumed office, he followed a strategy of taking the political pain early in his administration in hopes that would solve problems and lead to better days down the road, according to the released poll. "We're halfway down that road now and that strategy appears to have been successful so far," Brown noted.
Will the Tea Party field a candidate?
While the good news is Gov. Kasich can breath a little easier, the worrisome news is that a growing number of Tea Party forces are gathering against him. Ohio Democrats, who basked in the glory of winning Ohio for President Obama for a second consecutive time last year and who hope to replay a similar campaign in two years, believe they can upset the go-go governor. But who their candidate will be is still over the horizon.
What is clear, though, is that the Ohio Liberty Coalition (OLC) is standing up to Gov. Kasich's decision to expand Medicaid, a voluntary policy they say will help advance Obamacare in Ohio.
"Maybe we should reconsider the funding we send to high profile candidates - particularly when they turn coat and work against us," Ted Stevenot, OLC President, said in an email Thursday.
Stevenot said about 33 million was spent on Ohio's last gubernatorial election, "all so we could elect a governor who today brags of talking to Valerie Jarrett about how he and she can work together to institute a major element of Obamacare." He added, "I’m sure constituents will be thrilled to hear 'conservative' John Kasich is now cozying up to President Obama’s top adviser. But he doesn’t know the details? He doesn’t know the cost? And yet, he is still recommending this?"
Chris Littleton, the former President of the Cincinnati Tea Party and Co-founder and former President of the Ohio Liberty Council, was asked to comment but did not do so in time for this publication. Littleton is credited with his leadership in passing an Ohio statewide ballot initiative for a “Healthcare Freedom Amendment” to Ohio’s Constitution that addressed healthcare mandates. On the November 2011 ballot as Issue 3, the Ohio Healthcare Freedom amendment won 66 percent of the statewide vote including every Ohio County, giving it the largest margin of victory for any citizen’s initiative in state history.
Should one or more Ohio Tea Party groups actually field a candidate for governor, that would complicate Gov. Kasich's juggernaut to reelection by siphoning off votes that would otherwise have been won by Team Kasich. Considering the high rating shown in today's Quinnipiac poll, a three-way race in which one candidate is consuming oxygen from fiscal and social conservatives whose ideological bent is against the government can only hurt Kasich more than it will the a yet-to-be named Democratic candidate.
In 2010, when voter turnout was under 50 center, Kasich won only 49 percent, resulting in a margin of victory over incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland that was about 77 thousand votes statewide, about half the 150-thousand-plus voters who cast their ballot for a candidate other than Kasich or Strickland.
Team Kasich will point to today's numbers as proof his reforms to date are what Ohio voters want from him, and that his tax change proposals going forward will position Ohio for good times for years to come. What Team Kasich also knows is that they can't sacrifice their right flank to a candidate who can fracture his vote base even before a Democratic candidate, with the full-in support of President Obama's Organizing for Action, can convince Ohioans, who turned out in force to protect union rights in 2011 and again last year to win Ohio for Obama ,that Kasich's executive leadership, enabled by GOP majorities in both chambers of the legislature, is more flimflam than fact.
When asked by CGE how Gov. Kasich can be beat, Statehouse Democrats who spoke to the media following the governor's State of the State speech in Lima on Feb. 19th, said he would beat himself because his numbers don't add up.