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Opponents of Kasich and FitzGerald Still Mulling Gubernatorial Primary Challenges

Thursday, January 16, 2014 at 8:56 AM

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Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald and Gov. John Kasich (ideastream file photos by Nick Castele & Brian Bull)

The deadline for the May ballot is approaching, and candidates need to file by Feb. 5. And so far, there are no candidates lined up to oppose either incumbent Republican John Kasich or Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald. Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler talked with two people in a position to know whether there will be primaries for the major party candidates.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune shook up the Ohio Democratic Party by announcing in December that he was considering running against Cuyahoga County Commissioner Ed FitzGerald, who by that point had gotten the endorsements of the party and its county chairs.

With the deadline coming closer, he says he’s still thinking.

“I’ve never taken an interest in or being asked to look at a race this seriously or taken this far,” Portune said. “And this is certainly not about some future race down the road. This is about this year, this race and this election.”

Portune says a primary can strengthen and generate more interest in the party, which he says could lead to more donations. He says if he runs, he wouldn’t spend any money on advertising and would rely on direct mail and social media to reach the small percentage of voters who are likely to cast ballots in the primary.

But Portune says he’ll make his decision sometime next week after he finishes some statewide travel, and he says he’ll base that decision on what those Democrats are saying and whether he can put together a team that can win. But while he trails FitzGerald in name recognition and hasn’t started fundraising, Portune says he’s not that far behind.

“Mr. FitzGerald and I are at exactly the same point. Neither one of us has announced a lieutenant governor candidate, and as a consequence neither one of us have filed a single petition yet or circulated a single petition yet.”

And Portune says he’s in talks with three potential running mates.

“I’m in it with both feet right now,” Portune said. “And I’m – you have to run like you’re in it to the end and like you’re in it to win it.”

Meanwhile, conservative activists are also still weighing their options, now that Ted Stevenot, the candidate they’d thought would run against John Kasich, decided to bow out before he even filed. Tom Zawistowski heads the Portage County Tea Party, and he confesses his side is having trouble finding a candidate.

“Quite frankly, it’s because of intimidation,” Zawistowski said. “It’s because of threats. There’s lot of what they would call qualified candidates who would run, but when you try to talk to them about running they’re worried about retribution from the party.”

But Zawistowski says Tea Party activists are determined to do something to get their message heard.

“This governor doesn’t listen to anybody,” he said. “It’s ‘my way or the highway,’ and it’s been that way all along. Why don’t you ask them how much people have to pay to get access to Gov. Kasich and how they protect him from talking to the people? This is just a corrupt organization from top to bottom, and we’re not going to stand for that.”

Zawistowski admits he only recently met Donald Allen, the Youngstown area veterinarian who’s said he’s thinking about running for governor. But Zawistowski says he knows southwest Ohio Tea Party activist Kelly Kohls, who’d be Allen’s running mate. But like Brenda Mack, who’d said she would have run for lieutenant governor with Stevenot, Kohls has a history of tax problems and also has a bankruptcy.

But Zawistowski says a quarter of Ohioans have filed bankruptcy or have had major financial problems. And he adds that the Tea Party is also targeting state House and Senate races as well, not just the GOP primary.

The full interviews with Todd Portune and Tom Zawistowski will be featured on “The State of Ohio” on PBS stations statewide, or at ideastream.org/ohio.

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Government/Politics, Elections

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