In politics, perception is reality. And there is a growing perception that the Republican governor of the must-win state of Ohio (for the Republican presidential nominee) isn’t doing all he can to secure a win. Indeed, the more Gov. John Kasich publicly boasts about Ohio’s economic recovery, the more he is at odds with Mitt Romney, whose presidential campaign is built on the argument that President Obama has driven the country off an economic cliff.
As he crisscrosses the Buckeye State, Romney hammers away at the 8-plus percent national unemployment rate, the loss of manufacturing jobs and the despair of the middle class.
But that isn’t the story Kasich is telling.
The first clear indication of how the governor intended to conduct himself during the presidential election came at the Republican National Convention in Tampa when he was given a prime-time speaking slot. Here’s an excerpt of his speech:
“I’m going to tell you the story of Ohio and the story of lessons learned.
“I took office in 2011. And when I came into office, we were 48th in the nation in job creation — 48th. We had an $8 billion budget deficit, the largest in the history of the great state of Ohio and we had 89 cents in our rainy day fund. Most toddlers have more than 89 cents in their little piggybanks, let alone what was in our treasury. Our credit rating was headed down the drain. And we were — we had suffered a loss of 400,000 jobs.
“And ladies and gentlemen, tonight, the greatest moral issue in America today is job creation. We had lost 400,000 jobs. Our people were hurting and our families were hurting as a result of the recession. In Ohio, we were following a policy of tax, spend and duck. And that’s too much of what politicians do. They want to avoid the tough issues. But when we came into power, with my colleagues in the Legislature, we took our problems head on. We balanced our budget, that $8 billion dollar deficit was eliminated without a tax increase in the state of Ohio.”
The bottom line, Kasich said, is that Ohio has stopped hemorrhaging jobs and, instead, has created 122,000 new ones.
Although the convention was meant to be about the nomination of Romney and his vice presidential running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, it seemed Kasich forgot why he was there. He didn’t mention Romney by name until later on in his speech.
But it isn’t only on the issue of Ohio’s economic recovery that the governor and the GOP standard bearer have parted company.
The insistence by Kasich’s spokesman, Rob Nichols, that his boss did not oppose the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler (as suggested in this space two weeks ago) is glaringly counter to Romney’s position.
In 2008, the former governor of Massachusetts wrote an opinion piece published in the New York Times that carried the headline, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” Romney made it clear he did not support the federal government bailing out GM and Chrysler and said the two companies should have gone through a managed bankruptcy.
But as Peter Hamby, CNN political reporter, noted in an in-depth, thought-provoking piece headlined, “Why Romney is losing must-win Ohio,” the former Massachusetts governor’s favorable rating is “underwater.”
“Almost two-thirds of voters approve of Obama’s decision to bail out the auto industry, a staple of Ohio’s manufacturing economy,” Hamby wrote.
Ohio’s unemployment rate is at 7.2 percent. In August, it was 5.9 percent in central Ohio, including Franklin County.
While it is not surprising that Kasich would want to pound his chest, he must know that the Romney folks in Ohio, including U.S. Sen. Rob Portman and House Speaker John Boehner, aren’t pleased with his political hijinks.
What’s going on? Think 2016. If Romney is elected in November, he will undoubtedly run for a second term, which means Kasich would have to wait until 2020 to make a bid for the presidency. By then, he will be 68, and there will be a slew of younger Republicans vying for the GOP nomination.
But if Romney loses on Nov. 6, the door would be wide open for Kasich to make a bid in 2016.
Of course, it all depends on whether he is able to win re-election in 2014. If he does win a second term, watch out.