For Republican Governor John Kasich, reelection was supposed to be a breeze. The state of Ohio has a massive Republican majority in the state legislature, a fact that should have shored him up by helping him pass his major public policy platform with little effort. Instead, heading into the 2014 campaign, Kasich is bizarrely struggling against a mostly unknown Democratic candidate, and some wonder if that’s a sign that he’s more in danger than anyone realized. In reality, the question isn’t how did Kasich end up in jeopardy, but how many GOP governors could find themselves in a similar situation.
The reelection campaign of John Kasich is the sort that will be playing out in reddish-purple states all over the country such as North Carolina and Wisconsin, too. Although so many conservative leaning states saw massive GOP gains in the 2010 election, and even in the 2012 House races and local legislative races, 2012 presidential and Senate results showed a different bent all together. The most noticeable trend from the 2012 campaigns was that while congressional races still trended Republican, in many cases due to gerrymandered redistricting and hyper partisan congressional boundaries created after the 2010 midterms, when a candidate had to appeal across a full state, either as president or for a federal Senate seat, the Democratic candidate was more often likely to be the winner.
There are a few caveats there, of course. In many of those races, most notably the presidential election, or key Senate seats in Missouri and Indiana, the Democrat was an incumbent, giving that politician an inevitable advantage. Still, for Indiana and Missouri both, each Democratic senator was thought to be extremely vulnerable and in definite danger of a loss.
Still, a case could be made from the results — when it came to a core base to campaign and win over, extremist Republican candidates did well. When a broad, statewide audience needed to be appealed to, they faltered.
That’s where Governor Kasich may be stuck right now.
On the one side of the equation, Governor Kasich rubber stamped almost the entirety of the conservative GOP’s legislative agenda. Even in places where he could have veered away from them, such as not defunding the state’s Planned Parenthood affiliates, or giving program money meant to help low income families have enough food to eat to deceitful crisis pregnancy centers, approving legislation meant to shut down abortion providers or a mandatory forced ultrasound, the governor chose to sign the bills into law rather than single out and veto the ones he didn’t support.
Those sorts of legislative moves may have kept his Republican backers happy, but will they appeal across the state?
Gov. Kasich has already tried to move back to the side of the moderates, even bucking his own party to push through Medicaid expansion as a part of the Affordable Care Act. To continue to oppose the expansion would have been political suicide for a state like Ohio, which suffers from massive unemployment and because of that, has many uninsured citizens as well.
Voters, however, seem less than inclined to believe his makeover. The governor’s hypothetical matchup with likely Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald has gotten closer since November, with the Kasich now leading by just 5 points, despite the fact that the vast majority of voters say they don’t know anything about his rival. For a sitting governor to only be projected to have about 43 percent of the state’s voters’ support is a definite cause for alarm, especially since he was 14 points ahead only last June.
Kasich’s dwindling support as he tries to navigate between keeping the extremists in his own party happy and appealing to a full state that doesn’t care for the far right ideologies that are overtaking the state is one that will happen in other states as well. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and North Carolina’s Pat McCrory will both have to try to balance that tight rope, wondering how much their rightwing ideologies will harm them in their reelection campaigns now that many moderates believe they have pushed too far.
It could make for a very, very interesting 2014 election day
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