By Jason Hart | Ohio Watchdog
Gov. John Kasich is being talked up as a 2016 Republican presidential candidate, but 15 percent of Republican voters in Ohio’s 2014 primary declined to vote for him.
Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine and Treasurer Josh Mandel were the only Republicans on the statewide ticket running unopposed in both the 2010 and 2014 primaries. Of the three candidates, only the governor received a lower percentage of Republican primary votes as an incumbent.
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The secretary of state provided a report to Ohio Watchdog showing 658,155 Republican ballots cast in the May 6 primary, in which Kasich got 559,671 votes. Kasich won the support of 85 percent of 2014 primary voters, down slightly from 86 percent in 2010.
Appearing down-ballot from Kasich in both elections, DeWine’s primary vote total increased from 79 percent in 2010 to 83 percent in 2014; Mandel’s increased from 74 percent to 77 percent.
Although Kasich was an incumbent unopposed for the Republican mantle this spring, millions had already been spent on his behalf by May 6. A $475,200 ad buy April 14 was among the $863,093 in expenditures his campaign made during the pre-primary reporting period, followed by $740,950 in ad spending from April 21-28.
During the pre-primary reporting period the campaign also received in-kind support worth $631,814 from the Ohio Republican Party — despite beginning with almost $8 million on hand.
DeWine’s campaign spent just $10,922 during the pre-primary reporting period, and Mandel’s spent $194,662; the two received a combined total of barely $125,000 from ORP. ORP did not respond to a request for comment on the disparity between trends in primary support for Kasich, DeWine and Mandel.
Reporters in the Washington, D.C., beltway portray Kasich as a formidable presidential candidate in part because he is heavily favored in the general election against Ed FitzGerald, whose campaign is in such disarray that 25 percent of Democrat respondents to a Sept. 24-29 Quinnipiac poll said they plan to vote for Kasich.
Kasich was elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave by embracing the message of smaller government. “I think I was in the Tea Party before there was a Tea Party,” Kasich, a former congressman, famously told a crowd of activists at a 2010 rally before knocking off incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland that November.
Kasich’s spokesmen and ORP Chairman Matt Borges contend Kasich has adhered to limited-government ideals as governor, with Borges recently telling Politico Magazine contributor Connie Schultz, “John Kasich is the Tea Party.”
Many of Ohio’s traditional Republican base voters would beg to differ.
“I have heard from hundreds of activists, people who supported Governor Kasich in 2010, who aren’t going to vote for him this year,” Ann Becker, president of the Cincinnati Tea Party, told Ohio Watchdog via email. “They are just going to leave the Governor vote blank.”
“I think politics in Ohio has made a turn. People are no longer going to vote for someone because they have an ‘R’ after their name,” Becker explained. “We expect them to uphold the principles that the ‘R’ is supposed to represent.”
“Bringing Obamacare to Ohio by expanding Medicaid, blocking efforts to bring Right to Work to Ohio and not taking a stand against Common Core goes against our principles. We expect better from someone we hired to do a job,” she added. “You have to earn our vote.”
Kasich has reportedly promised union leaders he would not support Right to Work, which lets all workers choose whether to pay a union. Legislators have responded to a grassroots uproar against the national Common Core State Standards with multiple bills to end Ohio’s participation in the program, but Kasich has refused to even acknowledge their efforts.
Kasich ran against Obamacare in 2010 only to spend most of 2013 fighting for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, enacting the expansion unilaterally. His support for the Obamacare expansion almost prompted a primary challenge from Ted Stevenot, a former Ohio Liberty Coalition president.
Becker and Stevenot are both leaders of Ohio Rising, a nonprofit originally created for the 2011 campaign that passed a constitutional amendment preventing Ohio from creating a state-run Obamacare insurance exchange.
Kasich has made it clear renewing the Obamacare expansion is a priority for his likely second term.