Yes, I just claimed that John Kasich is going to be Ohio's next governor. This is not meant as hyperbole. I really believe Kasich is going to beat Governor Strickland in November.
This is not based on deep study of the polls or a county-by-county analysis or anything of that sort. It is more of a gut feeling based on how I see the campaign playing out. Now, of course, a great deal could change in the intervening months: scandals, gaffes, the political environment, etc. But right now I don't see any of that happening in such a way to change the underlying landscape.
I have begun to think that elections are determined in many ways by some pretty basic elements. What is the mood, what is the central issue or issues, how the candidates are perceived and what are their one sentence arguments for running.
On these basics Kasich is simply better situated to win than Strickland.
Details - such as they are - below.
For those of you who don’t have time for long-winded posts allow me to summarize:
Strickland: Economy sucks + lack of clear message or record + credible challenger = lose
Kasich: meets fundraising & qualifications threshold + favorable environment + strong message = win
First off, you don't have to be a political science professor to understand that a sitting governor with double digit unemployment for the foreseeable future is in trouble. Strickland may be an experienced campaigner and proven fundraiser but the economic situation is trouble with a capital T. Remember how unpopular Bob Taft got with much better economic numbers?
In this situation the challenger must do a couple of things: pass the threshold voters have for candidates and get his message out. No matter how bad things are most voters won't vote for a completely unknown, inexperienced or crazy candidate (state of Minnesota perhaps excepted). The challenger has to convince voters that they are serious and not a threat to make matters worse.
I think it is safe to say Kasich is going to pass this threshold. Former congressman, author, popular news personality and commentator will work. He is an engaging and passionate candidate who can connect with voters and debate the issues in the media and in person on the stump. He has already generated a great deal of excitement.
The challenge for credible candidates can then be name recognition. And this is true of Kasich. Most voters know who Governor Strickland is but many still are unclear about Kasich. This then falls to money and communication. Will he have the money to get his message out and can he do that effectively?
The answers are yes and yes. Kasich is a credible candidate and has the money and talent to get his message out to voters. He has already done a nice job with social media to get the base on board and with using events to build momentum and get favorable news coverage. I have seen nothing to indicate this won't continue.
Let's review: incumbent in trouble because the economy is in the tank and unemployment is in double digits. Challenger is a credible, media savvy politician without the baggage of being strongly tied to current state legislative or party leadership (he is not part of the group that put the state in this position). He has proven that he can raise money and do the work necessary to win.
This puts Kasich in a position to run on a pretty simple platform: "things suck, let's change". Right? "The system is broken we need someone to come in and fix things." Not hard to see the big picture message here.
So what is Ted Strickland going to run on? "Things could have been a lot worse" is about all he has. The strategy here is twofold: we survived the worst economic downturn in a generation & John Kasich is a scary guy who will destroy all you hold dear.
I think both of these will end up being weak tea. The fundamental problem is that Strickland can’t run as what I call a “conviction politician;”a candidate who cares about a few key issues and has the drive to accomplish something. Think the opposite of Bob Taft who was office manger from head to toe.
Now, Ted Strickland is going to try and be this candidate. He is going to boast about education reform, cutting government, lowering taxes (homestead exemption) and balancing the budget. The problem for Strickland is that he can't run as a conviction politician because he has stepped all over his lines on so many issues. He has become the politician stuck awkwardly in the middle.
His education reform is a sop to the education unions - with a few good ideas mixed in - but the funding is not there. He ruined his cutting taxes plank by raising taxes to balance the budget (yes, removing tax cuts that were on the books is a tax increase). He managed to look like a flip-flopping hypocrite by trying to sneak through gambling as a way to solve the budget. And sure he has been forced to trim state government some but he can’t very well run on slashing state government because 1) no one believes him and 2) to do so risks further irritating state unions and other leftist groups who want him to raise taxes and expand government.
The bottom line is no one really believes Strickland is a conviction politician. He was elected because voters were ticked at Taft and the GOP and didn't trust Ken Blackwell. Strickland at the time seemed like the type who wouldn't do too much damage - experienced, moderate, not crazy.
But when the economy tanked he seemed like a dear in headlights. He simply does not exude leadership. He is afraid acting like the liberal he really is would mean defeat so he tries to tack to the middle without fully aggravating the leftist base. Throw in a seemingly never ending series of mini-scandals and examples of poor vetting/incompetent management and you have a messaging problem.
If you ask the average voter what Ted Strickland really stands for what do you think they would say. Many might see him as a nice guy, but he has precious little political capital. Name an issue where Strickland has really shown leadership. Begging for more stimulus dollars? Pushing an unpopular rail project?
This brings us back to Kasich. You see, he can run as a conviction politician; because he is one and because the environment calls for it.
The signature issue that highlights this is his call to roll back Ohio’s income tax. It is an example of thinking boldly and brashly about what Ohio needs to do to compete. And it excites the conservative base.
The media of course hates it. Because like the green eye-shade wearers they are, they demand detailed budget scenarios and explanations of how everything will work. They simply can’t fathom how something this big might be accomplished and so they seek to nit-pick it to death.
Government is slashed to the bone! Think of the children! The Democrats and their media enablers bang the drumbeat on and on but the voters aren’t listening. If you think government is too small you are already going to vote for Strickland.
And all the while the message that is communicated is John Kasich thinks taxes are too high and is willing to take a lot of heat for it. Voters are not into the inside baseball of technical budget numbers or economic development policy. They only have time for and the ability to deal with big picture stuff.
Secondly, Kasich can and is running against both parties in a sense; against both Ted Strickland and Bob Taft. He is making the case that Ohio has been thinking to small and too narrowly for far too long. The fact that a huge chunk of the political and governmental establishment screams when the idea of eliminating the income tax is raised just shows how tied they are to the status-quo.
During normal times this would be a risky platform. Ken Blackwell ran an awkward an often off-message campaign but in many ways he had similar elements. He too was arguing for large scale changes and blaming both parties for failing to act. The problem for Blackwell – outside of the left’s constant demonization – was that the electorate wasn’t ready for big time change.
But the economic downturn, and inability of government to do anything about it in the near to medium term, means this anti-status-quo message is much more attractive. And Kasich with his history of balancing the budget and serving during economic good times is perfectly situated to campaign on this message effectively.
All of this is a longwinded way to saying: what is the election going to come down to? It is going to come down to jobs and to Ohio’s future.
John Kasich is going to campaign as a fresh face and new attitude. He is going to argue that the status-quo isn’t good enough; that is hasn’t been good enough for some time but that politicians of both parties lack the conviction and imagination to do anything about it but that he does and he will.
Ted Strickland is going to try and argue that he made the hard choices during the worst economy since the great depression and that he has the experience to lead the rapidly approaching recovery. And that John Kasich is a reckless conservative who used to work at Lehman Brothers.
Voters are going to see double digit unemployment, mounting budget deficits, stimulus dollars wasted and taxes going up – not to mention cabinet members resigning and staffers in court.
Can you honestly tell me that voters will then choose to give Ted Strickland four more years to try again?