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Tea Party unpopularity hits new national low, but in Ohio, Kasich should care

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It appears Gov. John R. Kasich won't be the only candidate on the Republican primary ballot next year. The incumbent GOP governor, elected in 2010 with a two percent margin that represented only 23.5 percent of registered voters that year, must win a second term if he hopes to compete in the 2016 Republican primary season.

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While Kasich's juggernaut campaign is expected to roll to victory with the resources and an endorsement from the Ohio Republican Party, whose new leader Kasich helped install after deposing the former party leader who successfully oversaw a sweep of all statewide offices by GOP candidates in 2010, he'll be inconvenienced at best but could come away wounded at worst if Ohio Tea Party activists rally behind Ted Stevenot, president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition [OLC], an umbrella group to dozens of other Buckeye Tea Party groups.

Tea Party leaders claim their support for Kasich three years ago was the difference between a win and a loss to Ted Strickland, the incumbent Democrat whose electoral fortunes dissolved as the Great Recession of 2007-08 decimated hundreds of thousands of jobs in such a short time. While Gov. Kasich enjoyed support from Ohio Tea Party leaders and activists three years ago, the former Congressman and Wall Street banker will have them as opponents next year now that they have turned against him over several issues, most notably the expansion of Medicaid, an option of the Supreme Court's ruling that declared the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act [Obamacare] that Kasich pushed hard for, some suspect, to shine up his compassion moderate credentials in advance of a second run he wants to make for the White House.

A resident of Clermont County near Cincinnati, Stevenot and his running mate, Brenda Mack, president of Ohio Black Republicans, announced last Saturday their intentions to be the Ohio Republican primary ballot next year. A formal announcement by the ticket is expected to follow soon.

Tom Zawistowski, executive director of the Portage County TEA Party, says he'll be voting for Stevenot and Mack. Zawistowski, the immediate past president of OLC, said, "I would be very supportive of his candidacy and would do everything within my resources to help him win the primary and then defeat Ed Fitzgerald in the general election next November," the Toledo Blade reported.

But if the results of a new poll the results Gallup on the declining popularity of the Tea Party hold true for Ohio, the Stevenot-Mack ticket will have more to worry about than taking on Kasich.

For the first time, Gallup reports that a slim majority of Americans say they have an unfavorable opinion of the Tea Party movement. About one-third view the movement favorably, a new low. A smaller percentage, 22 percent, in a separate question identify themselves as supporters of the movement, while 24 percent describe themselves as opponents. Gallup said that nearly half (48%) are neutral.

According to the poll, a majority of Republicans [58%] say they have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party movement, with slightly more than one-quarter [28%] viewing it unfavorably. Democrats, to no one's surprise, are largely [74%] unfavorable toward the group. Independents fall in between the two parties, but are more likely to view the movement unfavorably than favorably.

Though the Tea Party espouses conservative fiscal goals, self-identified conservatives, as a whole, are somewhat divided about the movement, Gallup reported. A full third [34%] of conservatives have an unfavorable opinion of the group, although 48 percent are favorable.

Gallup concludes that while the image of the U.S. Tea Party movement was fairly neutral in 2010, when its political activism may have helped Republicans retake majority control of the U.S. House, by 2011, "more Americans viewed it unfavorably than favorably, and today they hold a more negative opinion than ever."

The Tea Party has taken its lumps but so have the Republican and Democratic parties, who have likewise been suffering from an increasingly negative public image. "As long as the Tea Party is viewed as contributing to the unpopular partisan conflict in Washington, rather than remedying it, the movement is likely to remain controversial," Gallup said.

The odds of the ticket of Stevenot-Mack defeating Gov. Kasich and his Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor or both long and unlikely to happen, the presence of Stevenot and Mack on the ticket does exactly what activists like Zawistowski want it to do, push the Republican Party to the ideological right.

"Its popularity among Republicans may be most important, and on that score, the Tea Party is still doing fairly well," Gallup observed.

And if the Tea Party is on next year's ballot in Ohio, other parties and candidates will be there too. The AP reported that the Green and Constitution parties want to join a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of new ballot access rules for minor political parties.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed a court motion on behalf of the parties recently. The organization says the political parties should be included in the case as plaintiffs because they are impacted by the law and the lawsuit's outcome.

The complaint was originally filed by the Ohio Libertarians and is connected to the group's case that also challenges a separate law's requirement on petition circulators. The Libertarians argue the new ballot access rules unconstitutionally strip them of a primary. They are challenging other aspects of the new law, which also establishes political party qualifications and requirements to maintain that party status.

Gov. Kasich probably doesn't consider Stevenot and Mack a threat, but Charlie Earl, the Libertarian Party's candidate for governor, could tip the election to FitzGerald if the election is as close as it was in 2010 and he can siphon off several percent of Kasich's voter base.

In 2010, when Kasich beat Strickland by only 77,127 statewide, the cumulative vote takes by third party candidates that year broke the 150,000 threshold. Had these candidates not been on the ballot, enough of these voters could have gone with the steady and predictable Strickland over Kasich the reformer and one-time Fox Channel political talk show host.

It's safe to say that next year's election is Gov. Kasich's to lose, but that could happen if third party candidates are on the ballot and wage minimally credible campaigns.

Kasich's Democratic challenger, Ed FitzGerald, the first elected executive in Cuyahoga County, the most populous of the 88 counties, came out of the starting blocks recently and immediately tripped over the starting line about three weeks ago, when the Lieutenant Governor running mate he picked was forced to resign following a thicket of news reports focused on tax problems resulting from the publishing company he and his wife operate together.

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