As Gov. John Kasich ended his joint-appearance on Meet the Press a week ago by chiding Massachusetts Gov. Deval Pat-rick that he’d be a failure if the Celtics did not eliminate the Heat, a collective sigh of relief was exhaled at Mitt Romney’s Ohio campaign headquarters on Dublin Road.
Kasich, ever rhetorically impulsive, had nailed the interview with host David Gregory, staying on message throughout and avoiding a trap that he and Romney found themselves in when they first appeared together in late April at Otterbein University.
There was Romney telling students in a roundtable discussion that President Barack Obama was killing the economy and their futures. And there was Kasich, seated next to Romney as they ate burgers, telling the students that Ohio was becoming an oasis of opportunity, with 80,000 unfilled jobs just waiting for them.
Romney restrained any urge to grab the ketchup bottle and start squirting.
Who could blame Kasich for preening? Ohio is among a handful of rust-belt states recovering from the Great Recession more robustly than the vast majority of states and the nation as a whole. Since Kasich took office in January 2011, 73,000 new jobs have been added, unemployment has dropped from 9 percent to 7.4 percent, Ohio is first in the Midwest in job creation and seventh nationally, and its credit rating has been upgraded.
But these statistics do not fit Romney’s narrative that Obama is ruining the economy. So, a new tact and different message had to be contrived so he still could blame Obama in states with growing economies and Republican governors.
Here is what they came up with: We’d be doing even better in Ohio if Obama weren’t president and Romney were. Kasich tried it out on May 17 when I asked him how he and Romney were going to reconcile their contrasting messages of economic failure and success when they next appeared together.
“We still have too high unemployment, and I feel that the uncertainty that comes from the administration on Obamacare and possible taxes and over-regulation puts wind in our face,” Kasich replied, saying all Romney has to do as president is follow what he is doing as governor.
“My message to him is that we’re doing what all of us thought would work, and it’s working in Ohio, and we’d love you to do the same thing in Washington.”
By the time Kasich appeared on Meet the Press, anemic new national job-creation numbers had stung the president’s campaign and the wind-in-our-face Obama attack-metaphor was the talking point en fait. Kasich had it down.
“I am for Mitt Romney,” he said, “because I’m working with the wind in my face. These unemployment numbers, this job-growth number — 69,000 out of 300 million Americans? It means the wind is stronger in my face in Ohio.”
But earlier in the show, Kasich unwittingly had muddled the argument that Obama’s only role in Ohio’s economic recovery has been to hold it back. The disappointing national jobs’ numbers, he told Gregory, probably would translate into higher joblessness in Ohio.
“The problem we have, David, I would tell you honestly, the numbers that just came out, they frighten me because I believe we’re going to see, in all probability, some unemployment increases in Ohio.”
So, if higher unemployment in Ohio does occur, why is Obama responsible for that, but not responsible for the state’s post-recession economic surge? If a struggling national economy affects the state negatively, doesn’t it stand to reason that a recovering national economy affects the state positively?
And, under Obama, the national economy has improved —- slower than preferred, to be sure, with maddening ebbs and flows - but things are better nationally and in Ohio since he became president.
In the days ahead, there will be plenty of opportunities to attend Romney and Obama rallies in Ohio. Romney will say Ohio could be doing better if Obama hadn’t put the wind in its face. Obama will say Ohio is doing better because he put the wind at its back.
You’ll have to decide which way the wind is blowing.
Joe Hallett is senior editor at The Dispatch. firstname.lastname@example.org.