MONTPELIER, Ohio - John Kasich, the Republican candidate for governor, Monday invoked church, the Second Amendment, and the Tea Party in his tour through some of northwest Ohio's most reliably Republican counties in his quest for votes against Democratic incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland.
Mr. Kasich and running mate Mary Taylor pumped up supporters and wooed on-the-fence voters with promises of cutting the size of state government and restoring Ohio's appeal as a magnet for jobs during campaign stops in Seneca, Hancock, and Williams counties.
"How many of you when you were in church gave an elbow to the person next to you and said, 'Did you vote for Kasich and Taylor?' The Lord will not mind it," Mr. Kasich told a crowd of about 80 at the Pioneer Mill in Tiffin.
In speeches that were similar at each of three stops, Mr. Kasich introduced local candidates and joked with the crowd.
He emphasized at each stop his role as an Ohio congressman in which he said he, as chairman of the House budget committee, was the chief architect of the 1997 balanced budget agreement.
"I've never turned water into wine. But balancing the federal budget is about as close as a man can get," Mr. Kasich said to appreciative laughter in Montpelier.
"We paid down a half a trillion dollars of the national debt, we cut taxes for the job creators and we also cut taxes for families, and we also gave power back to the states. All these things contributed to a tremendous economic period," Mr. Kasich said. And all these things happened under the presidency of Democrat Bill Clinton.
At a rally in the veterans' hall at the Williams County Fairgrounds in Montpelier, Mr. Kasich assured a crowd of about 200 that, "I'm a gun owner. I have a gun in my house and I believe fervently in the Second Amendment."
The National Rifle Association has endorsed Mr. Strickland over Mr. Kasich because Mr. Kasich voted in 1994 for an assault weapons ban that Mr. Strickland opposed.
Speaking to about 100 people at Hancock County Republican Party headquarters in Findlay, Mr. Kasich said, "I love the Tea Party. They are our brothers and sisters in battle."
He told crowds, "We are going to stop strangling small business. They are the engines of job creation."
He also promised to "restore the tax cut that was taken away from us," an apparent reference to the last step of a multiyear state tax cut that was shelved by Governor Strickland and the General Assembly to balance the budget.
Asked afterward what he would cut to overcome a potential $8 billion deficit while cutting taxes, Mr. Kasich offered his proposal to privatize the Department of Development as one initiative for downsizing state government. In response to a reporter's question about selling the Ohio Turnpike, he said the idea was on the table, but said in the present economy it wouldn't bring much of a price.
"I can't tell you ultimately how all this will work until I get my numbers," Mr. Kasich said.
Ms. Taylor went solo for an appearance at the Putnam County GOP headquarters in Ottawa.
The tour of northwest Ohio came one day after President Obama spoke to a crowd of 35,000 in Columbus.
Mr. Kasich called Mr. Strickland and President Obama "the twins," because of all the positions he said they shared, including "higher taxes, bigger government, more regulation, Obamacare, and one size fits all."
He said the President and the Democrats have spent more to defeat him than any other candidate in the United States, citing visits by Mr. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Kasich said that was because of the importance of Ohio in electing the president in 2012.
Mr. Kasich said later he based his statement on discussions with knowledgeable political operatives.
Mr. Kasich's claim that Ohio is getting the biggest share of attention from President Obama and the Democratic National Committee could not be verified by leading Ohio Democrats.
Chris Redfern, the state Democratic chairman, said, "I never thought he thought of himself as the Messiah. He literally has to shoehorn his ego into the room.
"Like his views on tax policy and education funding John Kasich simply doesn't know what he's talking about," Mr. Redfern said.
Mr. Redfern said the groundwork for the 1997 balanced budget was in a 1994 budget pushed by President Clinton that Mr. Kasich opposed and Mr. Strickland supported.
Lis Smith, Mr. Strickland's campaign press secretary, said she wouldn't know how to quantify the importance that the national Democrats are giving to the gubernatorial race in Ohio. She noted there are also high-profile races in Florida, Illinois, and California.
She said the fact that Mr. Kasich was spending time in conservative areas is "indicative of some of the panic Congressman Kasich is feeling as the polls have tightened."
And she said Mr. Strickland balanced two state budgets without suggesting there was a miracle involved.
"He just considers it doing the job the people of Ohio elected him to do," Ms. Smith said.
At Montpelier, Mr. Kasich's black SUV drove past a crowd of about 50 union members, including Ohio steelworkers, who waved pro-Strickland signs.
Robert Greer, 54, a United Steelworkers union member and employee of Cooper Tire in Findlay, said Mr. Strickland and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher helped save the plant by offering incentives two years ago.
He blamed Ohio's loss of jobs on the loss of jobs to China since that country was granted most favored nation trading status in the 1990s.
"If you had enough jobs you wouldn't have competition between states like they're having," Mr. Greer said.
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