In a State of the State address long on self-congratulation and short on specifics about the future, John Kasich this week unofficially kicked off his re-election campaign. As he has in the past, the governor moved his speech from the Statehouse, this time bringing members of the legislature, his Cabinet, staff and other dignitaries to Medina.
But Kasich wasn’t speaking to just the audience in front of him. Instead, he was reaching outside to Ohio voters, testing messages he will use during his campaign.
Although the governor clearly doesn’t like the disciplined style necessary to present a detailed legislative agenda (the traditional format for State of the State addresses), he wandered only infrequently. The important thing in this election year is that the speech’s core messages — backed by plenty of campaign funds — are likely to get Kasich elected to a second term in November.
Essentially, Kasich took credit for the state’s economic recovery (now stalled), pointing to fiscal discipline, income tax cuts (he wants more) and regulatory reform as creating the right climate for job growth.
In terms of new programs, the centerpieces of the speech were ideas for preventing students from dropping out of high school by providing “real-life job training” and mentoring programs that draw on “schools, parents, communities, community organizations, faith-based groups, business leaders and, of course, our students.”
To make that work, Kasich proposed using a modest $10 million from the $200 million in one-time money Ohio received from casino licenses, which points to one big reason behind the lack of details about new, substantive programs — once you embrace income tax cuts, there is little money to pay for bright new ideas.
Democrats and their likely nominee for governor, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, have a strong counter-argument to make. But without a majority in either legislative chamber or a single statewide executive office, it will continue to be difficult to raise doubts about Kasich and present an alternative plan.
FitzGerald must first convince voters that most economic studies point to the fact that tax cuts make the rich richer without spurring growth, then argue for the kind of sustained investment in education and technology needed to jump start job and income growth.
Kasich, meanwhile, has the makings of a stump speech and plenty of money to reinforce it with television ads, direct mail and other techniques of modern campaigning. At the end of January, he reported campaign funds of $8 million. FitzGerald reported $1.4 million on hand, or not enough to buy one round of television ads covering the state.
Polling by Quinnipiac University released this month shows that 70 percent of Ohio voters don’t know enough about FitzGerald to form an opinion, and it looks like Kasich will be able to fill in the blanks before FitzGerald does.
Still, the Quinnipiac polling shows that Kasich has not sealed the deal with many Ohio voters. Although his job approval rating is 51 percent, only 43 percent say he cares about their needs and problems and only 42 percent view him favorably. In a head-to-head match up with FitzGerald, Kasich is ahead, but only 43 to 38 percent, a slight tightening from November.
At the beginning of his speech, Kasich noted the career of H.G. Blake, a Medina resident who was elected to Congress and became a close friend of Abraham Lincoln. Kasich described Blake as “a bit of pot-stirrer” for introducing a resolution to abolish slavery, something other abolitionists correctly feared was premature. “I imagine we would have gotten along just fine,” Kasich quipped.
Ohioans don’t have a history of electing pot-stirrers. Rather, they prefer managers, which is the role Kasich was careful to play in the rest of his remarks. In that role, he proved adequate, and that will probably be all it takes.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at email@example.com.