Having won in 2010 with a relentless strategy of blaming Ted Strickland for the loss of 400,000 jobs during his first term as governor, John Kasich is eying re-election with an equally misleading approach, taking credit for being up by 127,000 jobs during his watch as Ohioís chief executive.
Of course, Strickland, a Democrat, was overwhelmed by the effects of a national recession that ripped deeply into the stateís manufacturing-based economy. Now that the national economy is recovering, Republican Kasich is happy to take credit for the good news, attributing Ohioís progress to his job-creation and tax policies.
Yet the connection between low taxes and job creation remains tenuous, at best, and the centerpiece of the governorís job-creation strategy, JobsOhio, has been limited because its main source of funding, a complicated lease of the stateís liquor profits, has been crimped off by legal challenges.
In the meantime, Kasich has pursued business development the old-fashioned way, through tax incentives, an approach he now says the state will drop.
Actually, the bailout of GM and Chrysler engineered by the Obama administration, plus a boom in oil and gas drilling, appear to be driving Ohioís economy forward as the effects of the national recession wane.
But recent polling data indicate that if Democrats want to knock off Kasich, they had better get busy.
The latest statewide survey of Ohio registered voters by Quinnipiac University showed the governor with a positive job-approval rating for the first time since his inauguration, with 45 percent approving and 35 percent disapproving.
Even better, 58 percent of Ohio voters were very or somewhat satisfied with the way things are going in the state, the highest ever measured by Quinnipiac for Ohio. Not only did 42 percent of registered voters view the Ohio economy as getting better, but 61 percent said Kasich deserved a lot or some of the credit.
The bad news in the poll was that 58 percent of those who saw the Ohio economy getting better said President Obama deserved a lot or some of the credit.
The worst news for Kasich was that he has not come close to sealing the deal with Ohio voters on a second term, likely a reflection of his turbulent start, marred by the repeal of Senate Bill 5.
The Quinnipiac poll showed 43 percent thought Kasich does not deserve a second term, with only 36 percent in favor, dangerous territory for an incumbent seeking re-election.
Still, Ohio Democrats have a lot to do, and quickly, if they are to have a chance of ousting an incumbent governor. They can take virtually no comfort in either President Obamaís win in Ohio or Sherrod Brownís re-election to the U.S. Senate. Neither campaign laid a firm foundation for the governorís race in 2014.
As time marches on, Kasich has the potential of building on positive opinions about the economy, as long as his allies in the legislature avoid putting on the ballot another controversial ballot issue. The most likely possibility? A right-to-work amendment, sure to stir up another backlash from organized labor.
Rather than wait for more controversies that keep Kasichís re-election numbers below 50 percent, Democrats would be better off by rallying behind a candidate and laying out a positive case for change. Thatís where things get difficult for them.
Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive and former Lakewood mayor, looks like the best bet to challenge Kasich. Although he didnít support the measure that gave Cuyahoga County a charter form of government (the only other charter county is Summit), FitzGerald can use the narrative of reform and innovation to his advantage.
He faces two problems. The first is that almost nobody outside of Cuyahoga County knows who he is. According to the Quinnipiac poll, 84 percent of Ohio voters have not heard enough about him to form an opinion, the highest number among potential Democratic candidates tested in the survey. (The top-rated candidate, Strickland, dropped out of the race.)
The other is that Ohioís legislative Democrats are so isolated, unable to lay a foundation on which FitzGerald can build. Republicans in both houses have a supermajority, the result of gerrymandered districts, but supermajorities all the same.
To take on Kasich, FitzGerald will need money, organization and a message. To a large degree, he will have to find and build them on his own.