Local News
11:00 pm
Sat February 22, 2014

Kasich's State of the State speech: A campaign preview?

Monday night at the Medina Performing Arts Center, in front of the Ohio General Assembly, Ohio Gov. John Kasich will deliver his fourth State of the State address.

He is sincerely hoping it won’t be his last.

Unlike his previous State of the State messages, which Kasich has taken out of the Statehouse in Columbus and turned them into a traveling road show, this one will be in his re-election year.

This will be the year when the Republican governor, will be running for re-election to a second term.

And if he wins that race over Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald, he could suddenly be vaulted into the mix of GOP politicians who might make a run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

And don’t think the idea of living in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue hasn’t crossed the governor’s mind.

So there is a lot riding on this speech Monday night.

You can rightly consider the speech to be not only a recitation of his accomplishments over the past year and his plans for Ohio in the future but as a campaign speech as well – the first of the campaign season.

This is the one where John Kasich gets serious about his re-election campaign.

It won’t be overtly political – no FitzGerald bashing, no “vote for me” please – just a laundry list of reasons why listeners around the state might consider that a second term for Kasich might be a good idea.

And it would appear that he needs a little help.

Wednesday, the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, which regularly polls voters in key states such as Ohio, came out with a poll showing Kasich with a five percentage point lead over FitzGerald – 43 percent to 38 percent. That’s down from the seven percentage point lead Kasich had in the November Quinnipiac Poll.

That’s statistically insignificant given the fact that both the November and February polls had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percent.

But it is significant when you consider that the same poll showed that 51 percent approve of Kasich’s job performance while 36 percent said they disapprove.

What is even more astounding is that 70 percent of those polled said they did not know enough about FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County Executive, to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him, despite the fact that FitzGerald has been campaigning around the state for more than a year.

So, for a lot of people, they could have been asked by the poll, “if the election were held today, would be vote for John Kasich or Ham Sandwich?,” and many of them would have preferred Ham Sandwich.

FitzGerald’s anonymity may not be all that surprising. After all, how many people in Cuyahoga County do you think could tell you who the county commissioners in Hamilton County are?

Peter Brown, the assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, was struck by another number buried in the poll. It said that 24 percent – nearly one of every four Ohio voters – say they don’t know enough about Kasich to form a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him.

You can call this governor many things, but “shrinking violet” is not one of them. Like him or not, he has certainly not hidden his light under a bushel.

“You’ve got 24 percent who simply can’t rate Kasich,’’ Brown said. “It just proves that there are a lot of people who don’t focus as much on politics and politicians as the media will.”

Brown said one of the most significant findings in the poll was that Ohioans seem to like Kasich personally, but not so much on relating to regular folks.

Sixty-one percent said Kasich is a strong leader, while 52 percent said he is “honest and trustworthy.” But when asked if Kasich is someone who cares about their needs and problems, 43 percent said he does and 47 percent said he doesn’t.

“That’s something the FitzGerald campaign could exploit – the idea that he doesn’t care about the problems of the average Ohioan,’’ Brown said.

Still, FitzGerald has a long way to go. Brown said he needs to do two very basic things.

“First, he has to define himself for Ohio voters,’’ Brown said. “Secondly, he has to make a case to people why he would be a better governor than John Kasich.”

Money, Brown said, is how FitzGerald and Kasich can reduce those 70 percent and 24 percent numbers of Ohioans who have no opinion on them and change them to favorable opinions.

“TV is the magic bullet for name recognition; and to some extent the web,’’ Brown said.

If that’s the case, then FitzGerald is still at a huge disadvantage.

In January, when the two campaigns filed their end-of-the-year campaign finance reports, Kasich had a massive advantage over the Democrat in terms of money in the bank - $7.9 million to about $1.4 million.

Kyle Kondik, a political analyst with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and someone with roots in Ohio politics, said he was somewhat taken aback by the Quinnipiac Poll numbers.

“If Kasich has 51 percent job approval, why does he have only 43 percent support among voters?,” said Kondik, who works under Center for Politics Director Larry J. Sabato on the weekly Sabato’s Crystal Ball  which looks closely at political races around the country.

For some time now, the Crystal Ball has ranked Ohio’s gubernatorial race as “likely Republican” – just a step below the “safe Republican” ranking.

“I don’t think anybody expects (Kasich) to win with a big margin,’’ Kondik said.

If Kasich were to lose, Kondik said, it might be because of the same reasons Gov. John Gilligan of Cincinnati lost his bid for a second term in 1974 to former Republican governor James Rhodes by a scant 11,500 – less than one vote per precinct statewide.

“If he were like Gilligan and seen by many as arrogant and not so popular in his own party, perhaps Kasich could lose it,’’ Kondik said. “But Kasich seems to have toned down his rhetoric in the last couple of years. I’d still have to call him the favorite.”

Even so, Kasich will go into his State of the State speech in Medina Monday knowing one thing – that, four years ago, the incumbent Democratic governor he was running against, Ted Strickland, led him by five percentage points in the February 2010 Quinnipiac Poll.

Kasich ended up besting Strickland by two percentage points. Hardly an LBJ-style  landslide.

Five percentage points is not the kind of lead that would make any incumbent lean back, prop up his feet, and take it easy.