Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich said last April he would endorse former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour for president if he ran. Barbour didn’t. Then, Kasich said in October he encouraged New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to run. He didn’t, either.
Now, Kasich, whose state’s primary is tomorrow, backs no one. Indeed, his nod might not matter.
“It’s really not a focus of mine,” Kasich replied when asked after a Feb. 15 speech in Columbus whom he likes in the Republican contests. “We have to take care of Ohio, and I like anybody who’s going to help to get the wind at our back rather than in our face. How’s that for an answer?”
Kasich, 59, who ran for president in 2000, is among Republican governors not endorsing a candidate in the early primary states, and the results from those who did are mixed. South Carolina’s Nikki Haley championed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who lost there by 12.6 percentage points to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Romney won in Michigan, where Rick Snyder supported him, though he took his native state by only 3 points. Arizona's Jan Brewer endorsed Romney, though only two days before he won the Feb. 28 primary.
The importance of such endorsements may have waned as candidates communicate directly with voters and so-called super-PACs spend millions on television ads. Kasich might not be able to deliver much, anyhow. His approval rating after his first year in office was 44 percent in a University of Cincinnati poll released March 2. He’s also embroiled in a fight to replace the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.
With Ohio one of the biggest prizes in the so-called Super Tuesday primaries and the November general election, the internecine battle may spell trouble for any Republican seeking to defeat President Barack Obama if the fight continues unresolved, said Paul Beck, an Ohio State University political-science professor.
“That, I think, could be very demoralizing and just very deleterious to the party effort,” Beck said in a telephone interview from Columbus.
Candidates covet endorsements from governors not so much to sway people, who make up their own minds in this era of social media, Robert T. Bennett, a former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said in a telephone interview. Instead, the backing comes with an apparatus to raise money and mobilize voters, he said.
Kasich had a 71 percent approval rating among Republicans in a poll by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, released Feb. 14, though it was 40 percent overall. He has yet to top that 40 percent mark in a Quinnipiac poll since he took office last year, and his low was 30 percent one week after taking office and again March 23, a week before he signed a bill limiting collective bargaining for public employees. Voters repealed it in November.
The governor also has begun an effort to take control of the state Republican Party by running a slate of candidates in tomorrow’s primary for central committee members who elect the chairman. Kevin DeWine, the current chairman, is backing the incumbents.
Rob Nichols, a Kasich spokesman, in a phone interview said only that “we believe new leadership is necessary.”
DeWine said he is “100 percent focused on building an operation to carry the Buckeye State for the Republican nominee.” He rejected any suggestion the party fight will hinder Republicans’ efforts to defeat Obama.
Ted Strickland, the Democratic governor whom Kasich beat in 2010, made trips out of state while in office to raise money for himself and the party. Kasich hasn’t done any fundraisers since taking office except in support of the bargaining-law referendum, Nichols said.
The Republican fight is about the ability to control which vendors get the party’s business, Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said in a telephone interview. It “goes without saying” the Republican battle helps his party, he said.
Republicans should spend time and money trying to defeat Obama, not each other, said Tom Zawistowski, president of the Ohio Liberty Council, an organization of Tea Party groups.
‘Shouldn’t Be Happening’
“This is absolutely inappropriate, and something that just shouldn’t be happening in a presidential election year,” Zawistowski said in a telephone interview. “The Republican Party should be focused on the races that are being run, not on who’s running the party.”
The fight may disrupt the Republican Party’s traditional role of mobilizing voters in November, said John C. Green, a political scientist from the University of Akron. It also may hinder fundraising and grassroots energy, he said.
“This kind of conflict can make the party organization less effective,” Green said in a telephone interview.
In any event, the rise of super-PACs spending millions of dollars after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has diminished the importance of governors and parties, said William C. Binning, a former Mahoning County Republican Party chairman who worked for three governors and is chairman emeritus of Youngstown State University’s political-science department.
“Every year, the party becomes less significant,” Binning said in a telephone interview.
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