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Activist Claims Ohio GOP Leaders are Saying Tea Partiers are Backed by Dems

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In this election year, it was inevitable that there would be some unusual political stories that would circulate – some true, some doubtful. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler explains one that’s circulating around the state.

Friday, March 7, 2014 at 4:25 pm

Here’s the story, from Tom Zawistowski, president of the Ohio Citizens PAC.

“Operatives from the Ohio Republican Party have been calling voters, calling county officers in the Republican party with a narrative that says the Tea Party is controlled by the Democrats. Some of them have even gone so far as to say Tom Zawistowski is paid by the Democrats, and our goal is to destroy the Republican Party.”

Zawistowski, the head of the Portage County Tea Party, has had harsh words for the Ohio Republican Party and for Gov. John Kasich in particular – mostly over Kasich’s push for Medicaid expansion.

Zawistowski says the ORP is “an election machine, and their goal is to elect people so they get money and power.”

Not surprisingly, the Ohio Republican Party is refuting those claims. Chris Schrimpf speaks for the ORP.

“No, that is not true at all," Schrimpf said. "The Republican Party and Chairman Borges have reached out repeatedly to the Tea Party. We continue to reach out to the Tea Party. The chairman’s hand is always open. He speaks to their groups and talks about the ways we can work together and that’s what we'll continue to do.”

The claim that Democrats are secretly backing the Tea Party in an attempt to destroy the Republican Party echoes something heard in the protest hearing over Libertarian Charlie Earl’s place on the ballot in the governor’s race.

Lawyers say Democrats helped Libertarians gather signatures for Earl to make sure there would be a conservative candidate to potentially siphon votes from incumbent Gov. John Kasich. Libertarians admit that they did work with Democrats, but they say there’s nothing in the law that prevents that. Late Friday afternoon, Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Earl would be disqualified from the ballot this year.

Zawistowski’s Ohio Citizens PAC is supporting seven conservative candidates for Ohio Senate, including one incumbent, and 16 candidates for Ohio House, including four incumbents. Three of those incumbents have not been endorsed by the Ohio Republican Party.

Zawistowski says Tea Partiers are disappointed that the ORP has endorsed nearly every other incumbent in the primary, which he says doesn’t give Republican voters a choice of who they want to run in the general election this fall.

“We’re not trying to destroy the Republican Party," Zawistowski said. "We think they’ve done a great job of destroying the Republican Party. The Tea Party candidates are trying to restore the Republican Party to Republican values and principles.”

But Schrimpf says the ORP endorsed those incumbents based on their records of cutting taxes and creating jobs. And he says the Republican Party will focus on that message, no matter what Zawistowski says.

“That’s a record we’re proud of, and that's the record we’re going to continue to talk about," Schrimpf said. "We’re not going to spend a lot of time engaging with back-and-forth with a gentleman who's making accusations against us.”

Zawistowski has said publicly that Tea Partiers are comfortable with Democratic candidate Ed FitzGerald beating Kasich this fall, because FitzGerald would face a Republican-dominated legislature that would likely block his major policy efforts.

No one from the Ohio Democratic Party wanted to comment on tape. But chairman Chris Redfern offered in an e-mailed statement this single sentence as a reaction: “And to think they say that John Kasich doesn’t have a base problem.”

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