When the postmortem of the 2014 race for governor of Ohio is conducted, the following political truth will be revealed:
You can’t nominate an individual without experience running for statewide office and virtually no name recognition outside of his home county and expect him to take on an incumbent officeholder with strong political credentials.
But that’s what Ohio Democrats did when they picked Ed FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County executive, to challenge Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is seeking a second four-year term Nov. 4.
The analysis of the election will also show that while Democrats had a compelling message on issues such as income tax cuts, reduction in state funding for education and local governments, an attack on collective bargaining and a restrictive abortion law, FitzGerald was the wrong messenger.
Finally, the postmortem will reveal that while Kasich began his tenure in January 2011 embracing a largely conservative agenda, he matured politically and by the end of his term embraced moderation.
Kasich’s political transformation, along with FitzGerald’s crippled candidacy, explains why the incumbent has such a commanding lead in the polls today.
It also explains why The Vindicator is endorsing the Republican for a second term — despite our past disagreements with him.
We have thought long and hard about this race, and after interviewing each of the candidates, poring over their resumes and studying their positions on a range of issues, we have concluded that Kasich is deserving of re-election.
The Vindicator endorses his candidacy in the belief that a second term will reflect his understanding that Ohio is, in reality, a purple state. This, despite the fact that Republicans now occupy all statewide administrative offices, control the General Assembly and state Supreme Court and dominate the congressional delegation.
This election had the makings of one of the more exciting, down-to-the-wire gubernatorial contests in Ohio in recent memory. But, FitzGerald, after an impressive start for someone who had never run for statewide office, stumbled — badly.
The fortunes of each campaign are reflected in the demeanor of the candidates.
FitzGerald had met with the Editorial Board in the spring and last year when he was putting together his campaign. It’s not surprising that in those sessions he exuded a great deal more confidence and spoke with passion about the need to take Ohio in a different direction than the course followed by Kasich and the Republican-controlled General Assembly over the past three-plus years.
There were polls in those early days showing the race to be a toss-up.
But the Democratic nominee who met with us on Oct. 6 was less animated and showed signs of despair. He complained bitterly about Kasich refusing to debate him, and bristled at a question having to do with his driving for about 10 years without a permanent driver’s license — while serving in public office.
But while we had an opportunity to observe up close the Democrat’s political contraction, we’ve had to view Gov. Kasich from afar.
That’s because he has steered clear of this newspaper since the day he took office.
Thus, when his campaign agreed to our invitation for an endorsement interview, we were pleasantly surprised — and anticipated a knock-down-drag-out session.
Instead, the Sept. 9 meeting revealed a governor willing to give us as much time as we needed to ask whatever questions we had amassed over the past three years and nine months.
Kasich was well aware of our strident opposition to one of his signature initiatives, the creation of a private entity, JobsOhio, to handle the state’s job-creation and job- retention efforts.
We made it clear to him — as we have done in numerous editorials — that we are uncomfortable with the fact that JobsOhio does not have the same level of transparency as most public entities.
We also expressed our misgivings about the audit process that has taken away the state auditor’s exclusive audit responsibility over JobsOhio.
The governor assured us the public will be privy to whatever information it had access to when the Ohio Department of Development was in operation. We will hold him to his word.
As for the cuts in state funding for local governments and higher education against the backdrop of a $1.5 billion rainy day fund, Kasich insisted that he was forced to take drastic action in the two biennium budgets because he had inherited a state general fund budget with an $8 billion hole, and a depleted surplus fund.
We also reiterated our concerns about the lack of state oversight of the charter school industry, and the governor made it clear that steps are being taken to deal with operators who are in violation of state laws.
Ohio is recovering from the national economic recession, and Kasich has laid a solid foundation for growth.
The Vindicator endorses the governor for re-election, and we urge him to make bipartisanship the hallmark of his second term.