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Onetime reviled Ohio Gov. John Kasich pitches in for Romney

November 01, 2012|By Alana Semuels
  • Ohio Gov. John Kasich and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney participate in a roundtable discussion in Westerville, Ohio.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney participate… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A year ago, he was one of the more hated governors in America. Republican Gov. John Kasich had pushed through Senate Bill 5, legislation that limited collective bargaining rights for public employees in the state. He invoked the ire of longtime Republicans, including members of police and fire unions, and was roundly mocked after an initiative, Issue 2, repealed the law by a 2-1 margin.

"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," Jay McDonald, the head of Ohio's Fraternal Order of Police, told The Times.

But for better or worse, Kasich seems to have rebounded, and is playing a role in the election this year. On Thursday morning, his Op-Ed article endorsing Mitt Romney appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer -- something that would have been detrimental to the Romney campaign just a year ago. 

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He's appeared at rallies for Romney and GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, and last weekend, Ryan spoke to crowds about working with Kasich in Congress, saying that he looked up to the Ohio governor.

It may be a sign that people in Ohio are either forgiving or forgetful, but Kasich's poll numbers are rebounding. At the end of September, more than half of Ohio residents surveyed said they approved of the job he was doing, according to a Washington Post poll. In mid-2011, his approval rating was in the mid-30s, and some analysts were saying that his union offensive might cost the GOP the state.

It also may just be a sign that there’s not much that can change Ohioans' minds at this point, even a once-reviled governor stumping for the Romney campaign.

Using Kasich in the Romney campaign “is not going to play well across the aisle,” said Grant Neeley, a professor at the University of Dayton. “But I don’t think there’s anyone left who’s undecided.”

Still, the anti-Kasich union fervor present in Ohio in connection with Issue 2 seems to have subsided. Although some analysts predicted that the labor get-out-the-vote organization created in response to Kasich could help President Obama's campaign this year in Ohio, many union members aren’t as fired up this year as they were last. Some Ohioans who participated in the highly organized and successful union canvassing efforts last year to defeat Senate Bill 5 say they’re frustrated with Obama and ambivalent about getting out to help.

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“I did that last campaign -- I tell you what, I’m a little reluctant to do it this year,” said Ed Havich, a retired General Electric worker from Mineral Ridge, Ohio. “I’m not eager to go out and do something that can bring substantial change when it didn’t happen.”

Others, though, still say they remember what Kasich did, and will carry that memory to the voting booth.

“I think that Senate Bill 5 organized labor and grass-roots coalitions more than any single piece of legislation that I can remember in my history,” said Phil Hayes, a Columbus teacher who was active in Democratic organizing last year, and is active this year as well.

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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