COLUMBUS — The Ohio Chamber of Commerce for the first time in its 117-year history Thursday endorsed a candidate, Republican John Kasich, in the race for governor.
Mr. Kasich called the unprecedented unanimous vote of the chamber's political action committee "precious."
The endorsement was a blow to Gov. Ted Strickland, who had interviewed for the chamber's endorsement and had worked with the business organization on issues like taxes and energy. The governor has been trailing in recent polls in what has become the most-watched gubernatorial race in the nation given Ohio's importance in national elections.
"This is not a referendum on what the last four years have been," said chamber President Andy Doehrel. "We're trying to look ahead at where the next four years need to lead us."
With the exception of its controversial involvement in past years in Ohio Supreme Court races, the chamber has never endorsed a candidate for other statewide office since its bylaws were changed to allow that in 1998.
While Mr. Doehrel said that recent Strickland ads featuring Republican corporate CEOs are evidence that the Democratic governor has some support in the business community, he said the Strickland campaign's recent attacks on some businesses weighed against him in the chamber's discussions.
"I recognize how difficult it was for the Ohio Chamber of Commerce to make a decision to take a stand," said Mr. Kasich, who attended the chamber's announcement. "... I'm proud they endorsed me, but I'm so proud of them because they've decided to stand for something."
Mr. Kasich's campaign has called for the gradual elimination of Ohio's personal income tax, the privatization of the state's economic development efforts, and rolling back education reforms enacted by the Strickland administration.
Mr. Strickland, in turn, has largely backed tax cuts set in motion before he took office and stood with the chamber and other business groups in shelving the last increment of a planned income tax cut last year as the best way to patch a budget hole. He has argued that his approach would place Ohio in better position to recover from the national recession than Mr. Kasich's plan.
Strickland campaign manager Aaron Pickrell, questioned shortly before the chamber's announcement, did not offer an immediate response to the endorsement. The chamber's announcement came shortly after the Strickland campaign unveiled its latest ad designed to recognize voters' anger over the state of Ohio's economy.
The chamber also endorsed Republicans in two other statewide races — Mike DeWine, the former U.S. senator, in his challenge to Attorney General Richard Cordray, and Jon Husted, the state senator running for secretary of state against Maryellen O'Shaughnessy, Franklin County clerk of courts.
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