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Why Ohio Is the Most Muddled Swing State Ever

By Erin McPike - December 26, 2011

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Fast-forward to just last month, when about a quarter-million more Ohioans voted against the collective bargaining measure than voted for Kasich the year before, putting him at sharp odds with Democrats and independents. And now, Kasich is openly feuding with his state GOP chairman, Kevin DeWine, which is wreaking havoc on the state party and significantly weakening what was once a well-oiled machine.

With Kasich getting squeezed by his left and right flanks, sources in both parties wonder whether holding the governor’s mansion will help the eventual Republican presidential nominee next year. Kasich is certainly not someone who can corral disaffected Democrats or independents. We Are Ohio, the union-affiliated group that opposed him on the collective bargaining referendum, outspent Kasich’s side by 3 to 1, demonstrating the power the left has amassed in this state over the past couple of election cycles. It paid off.

The state Democratic Party started updating its antiquated approach to elections after President Bush carried Ohio in 2004, realizing that instead of concentrating on urban centers alone, it needed to turn out voters all over the state. When Obama visited Cincinnati this fall to push for funding to replace the dilapidated Brent Spence Bridge, conventional wisdom indicated that he wanted to put political pressure on House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose home states are connected by the bridge, thus making it a symbol of the fight over infrastructure spending.

In reality, the visit was also a way for the president to make an impression in the conservative southwestern part of Ohio, an area that rarely sees Democrats. The more times the region is touched by the White House, the more voters that Democrats believe they can turn out next November.

 

Family Quarreling

Added to the White House’s concentration on Ohio and the president’s visits is the state Democratic Party’s power. In the last couple of years it has become the largest party organization in the country behind the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. So, heading into an election against well-funded Democrats and an incumbent president with a superior organization has Republicans in the state fretting that “now is not the time” for Kasich to dampen the GOP with an intraparty squabble.

But that is what has happened. Kevin DeWine, the relatively new GOP chairman in Ohio, and Kasich haven’t trusted each other for years. In fact, to hear Washington Republican operatives aware of the situation tell it, “They hate each other.” And in trying to build a winning organization in 2012, a feat that will be far more difficult than it was in the midterms, Republicans realize this enmity is a significant problem.

The discord is a deep-seated issue that involves well-paid consultants trying to lock down contracts and install their own favored politicians in order to maintain a steady stream of funds. But now, the party and Kasich are on opposite sides of the fight.

According to a handful of Ohio Republican operatives familiar with the situation, who were granted anonymity to speak freely about the situation, after the governor was elected, he let DeWine know that he didn’t trust him, so DeWine let the seasoned party staff go in order to start over, build a clean slate and reinitiate trust. But as 2011 dragged on, Kasich still felt as though he wasn’t getting enough support from the party in the battle over collective bargaining. It embarrassed him greatly that the other side outspent him so heavily and that the voters rebuked him so badly at the polls.

So now his associates are working to oust DeWine from his perch.

It’s inside baseball, to be sure, but here's how that could happen. Sixty-six members of the state GOP elect the party chairman. That group consists of two Republicans from each of the state’s 33 Senate districts, and elections for those 66 slots occur on the same day as the presidential primary, Super Tuesday. With the increasing mistrust, the governor’s team has been recruiting people to oppose the existing members in the March 6 elections in order to set the stage for DeWine’s ouster.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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