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Ohio Readies for Contentious 2014 Governor's Race

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All five statewide executive offices are on this year’s ballot, along with the entire Ohio House, half the Ohio Senate, and the entire U.S. House of Representatives, including Ohio’s 16 members of Congress. But arguably the marquee race will be the contest for governor. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler has this preview.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Incumbent Republican John Kasich hasn’t officially announced he’s running, but he’s expected to. The governor has spent most of his first three years in office talking about the economy and jobs. In his State of the State speech in Lima last February, he said jobs are “our greatest moral purpose."

“My mission has been to create a growing economy that allows people to realize their hopes and their dreams and their purposes," Kasich said. "Because it’s through our work that some of our life has meaning. It‘s about our mission. It’s about the purposes that the Lord set out for us.”

Kasich talks about his faith quite often, and especially in this last year, when he was working to convince skeptical fellow Republicans in the legislature to expand Medicaid – as he did in a speech at the Cleveland Clinic this summer, telling attendees, “The Lord gave me a chance to have this position.”

Kasich has also referred to what he calls “Ohio Miracle” – the gain of 175,000 jobs since he took office, and his shepherding of the budget from an estimated $8 billion deficit to a $1.5 billion surplus.

But his likely Democratic opponent this fall sees it differently. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald launched his campaign in April.

“Just about everyone everywhere is spending more hours on the job, less time with their families, bringing home smaller and smaller paychecks, while they’re paying more and more at the gas pump and the grocery store," FitzGerald said when announcing his candidacy. "So when the people I talk to hear John Kasich say that Ohio’s economy is a ‘miracle,' they usually say, a miracle for who?”

FitzGerald has also blasted Kasich’s JobsOhio for ethical concerns, and that’s likely to be a big campaign issue for Democrats.

But FitzGerald’s campaign had an early setback when Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati had to step down as his running mate after the revelation of hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes.

And FitzGerald may to slog through a primary in May to reach the main event in November. Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune has said he plans to challenge FitzGerald because he feels there needs to be a choice, though he says he hasn’t filed yet.

And for a few days, it appeared that Tea Partiers were going to run against Kasich, following up on a battle cry that organizer Tom Zawistowski used to rally about 300 Tea Party activists angry over Medicaid expansion at a convention in September.

“We have no excuse but to take this battle to the enemy, to not play defense but to play offense," Zawistowski said.

But over the weekend, former Ohio Liberty Coalition president Ted Stevenot said he wouldn’t run in the GOP primary, as he said he would just days later.

Former Republican state lawmaker-turned-libertarian Charlie Earl has said he plans to run in the fall. And he’ll be in what John Green at the Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron says will likely be a record-breaking race in terms of money.

“It’s very hard to tell just how big a record it will be," Green said. "What makes it really unpredictable is we had a lot of outside groups involved in elections, and Ohio’s the kind of state that tends to attract a lot of outside attention.”

Political scientist Herb Asher at Ohio State University says the cost of the contest depends on how the Democratic candidate does with fundraising.

“Certainly Gov. Kasich and his team will be able to raise whatever they need, and the challenge right now for Democrats – will they in fact be able to if not match, them dollar-for-dollar, raise sufficient amount of money to make it a competitive race financially.”

And there also may be a few ballot issues before voters this fall – including an amendment legalizing same-sex marriage, the timing of which has polarized gay rights groups. Other possible issues include an approval of medical marijuana, and the so-called “right-to-work” amendment prohibiting union membership as a requirement for employment, which is backed by Tea Party groups.

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