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Gov. John Kasich's union offensive could cost the GOP in Ohio

March 06, 2012|By Alana Semuels
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak )

Reporting from Columbus, Ohio — It’s the independent voters in Ohio who will help decide the general election in one of the nation’s most important swing states. But comments by voters hitting the polls in Columbus on Super Tuesday indicate that Republicans may already have a handicap in November: the state’s GOP governor, John Kasich.

Kasich is beloved by many conservatives for keeping his promise to cut the state’s deficit, but he also signed into law a bill, SB 5, that took away collective bargaining rights from public employees. That law was repealed by voters in a November referendum by a 2-to-1 margin.

Jay McDonald, president of Ohio’s Fraternal Order of Police, says that many of his group’s conservative members have changed their party affiliation after the fight over SB 5, also known as Issue 2 because of its place on the November ballot. The group endorsed John McCain for president in 2008.

“I’ve got lots and lots of guys who said because of continued attacks on the unions, they no longer consider themselves to be Republican,” he said.

Prabol Basu, who works for the state government in Ohio, said he voted for Democratic candidates Tuesday. But he considers himself an independent and opposed Kasich’s move to limit union rights.

Though that might eventually influence his vote, he said, “we have a long way to go. It just depends on what they say and do.”

Even if the controversy over SB 5 isn’t a game-changer in the Ohio general election, the network that Democrats put into place might be, said Grant Neeley, a political science professor at the University of Dayton.

“The mobilization efforts that Democrats and labor put out to defeat Issue 2 speaks pretty highly to their organizational activities when they really get going,” he said. “We’re one of the states [President] Obama’s org has been in, and they’ve stayed active here.”

Still, there remain voters such as Preston Jennings, 85, who cast his ballot for Rick Santorum at a polling place in the fire station of a quiet Columbus neighborhood Tuesday. Jennings, a retiree who once belonged to an electricians union, said that he didn’t like how Republican candidates such as Mitt Romney have said that they supported SB 5. But regardless of that and his opposition to Kasich, he said, he’s still a Republican through and through.

“I’m for anyone but Obama,” he said.

 alana.semuels@latimes.com

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