No Strickland, but no free ride for Kasich either

Jan 12, 2013

Rematches have a certain appeal – whether in sports, politics or any competitive endeavor.

There are a lot of Cincinnati Reds fans, for example, who would give their eye teeth for another crack at the San Francisco Giants in the play-offs in October.

And there were a lot of Democrats in Ohio who had been hoping for a rematch of their own in the fall of 2014 – another head-to-head battle between Republican John Kasich and Democrat Ted Strickland for the governor’s office in Ohio.

Reds fans have reason to hope. Those Democrats backing Strickland for governor in 2014 do not.

The 71-year-old Strickland ended all of that when he suddenly announced – through a written statement released by the Ohio Democratic Party – that he has chosen not to run for the office he lost to Kasich in 2010.

He didn’t say why in the written statement; and hasn’t offered any insights into his decision since.
Still, there are Democrats in Ohio who feel they have lost their best hope of making Kasich a one-term governor, just the way Kasich made Strickland a one-termer.

And there are other Democrats who are convinced that Kasich is damaged goods; and can still be had – given the right candidate comes along.

In a year when Republicans were stomping Ohio Democrats into dust, winning every statewide office, the 2010 governor’s race was relatively close – 49 percent for Kasich, the former House  Budget Committee chairman, investment banker, and host of a Fox News show; to 47 percent for Strickland, a six-term congressman from southern and eastern Ohio who whipped Republican Ken Blackwell soundly in 2006 to win the governor’s office.

Only about 77,000 votes separated the two, out of about 3.8 million votes cast.

And the statewide polling, particularly in the first year or so of Kasich’s governorship, had Strickland easily defeating Kasich in a  theoretical rematch.

There is quite some time to go until the 2014 gubernatorial campaign begins in earnest, but even the more recent polling has shown that Kasich is by no means a shoo-in for reelection. And a healthy reelection in 2014 is going to be most important for a Republican governor who may well be eyeing a run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

Last month, the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, which polls voters in key states like Ohio, came out with a poll of Ohio voters that had good news and bad news for Kasich.

The good news was that, for the first time since his inauguration in January 2011, more people approved of his job performance than disapproved – 42 percent to 35 percent.

Not bad, but a whole lot better than the 30 percent job approval rating he had in March 2011.

But then, almost inexplicably, the same poll asked Ohio voters if they thought Kasich should be re-elected.

On that question, 43 percent said no, while 36 percent said yes. And a rather shocking number of Republicans polled – 41 percent – said they think some other Republican should run against Kasich for the GOP nomination in 2014.

Very odd.

Ohio Republicans pooh-pooh all of this. They look at Ohio’s better-than-average economic recovery since Kasich became governor and believe it gives him a leg-up on any Democratic opponent.

Ohio Republican Party chairman Bob Bennett said that the job creation under Kasich ought to make any Democrat think twice about taking on the Republican governor.

Democrats, on the other hand, argue that Strickland laid the groundwork for Ohio’s economic recovery, along with the Obama administration’s help, long before Kasich stepped into the governor’s office.

But the first rule of politics is that you can’t beat something with nothing.

So who do the Democrats have on the bench, now that Strickland has taken himself out of the running?
Right now, the name at the top of the list is Edward FitzGerald.

In Cincinnati, you could stand in Fountain Square and ask everyone you meet who Edward FitzGerald is, and chances are you would be standing there a very long time before someone could identify the county executive of Cuyahoga County.

But the 44-year-old former FBI agent, who took over as the county’s first county executive after it scrapped its scandal-ridden county commission system, has gotten high marks for his job performance; and is clearly laying the groundwork for a run for governor.

This week, he was the only potential gubernatorial candidate at a Columbus meeting of Democratic county party chairs from around the state; and no doubt made some new friends.

Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general and treasurer, is a definite possibility too. But he is currently serving in the Obama administration as head of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; and can’t do anything overtly political while in that job.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles has been talked about as a possible candidate for governor, but he was just re-appointed to the powerful House Appropriations Committee and may not want to forsake that for a shot at the governor’s office.

Then there is former congresswoman Betty Sutton of the Akron suburbs. The Republicans drew a tough district for her to run in, and she lost in November to Republican Rep. Jim Renacci.

“All of these people would be fine candidates, but they are basically known mostly in their own parts of the state,’’ said Hamilton County Democratic Party chairman Tim Burke. “It’s very hard in Ohio to get statewide recognition.”

Strickland, of course, had the advantage of having been governor for four years. People in Ohio know him. Quinnipiac had 41 percent saying they had a favorable opinion of him, 29 percent saying they view him unfavorably and 29 percent saying they don’t know enough about him to have an opinion.

When it comes to the other potential contenders, that same poll showed that Ohio voters simply don’t know them. For Cordray, 70 percent said they couldn’t form an opinion, despite having held two statewide offices. For Ryan, the number was 74 percent. And for FitzGerald, it was a whopping 84 percent. Sutton wasn’t polled.

But, fortunately for these potential candidates there is an antidote to anonymity: money.

Raise a lot of it; and you can become a very famous Ohio Democrat really fast.