CLEVELAND - John Kasich, the Republican candidate for governor, reached into this city's Eastern European ethnic community Thursday with U.S. Sen. George Voinovich during a series of stops in Cuyahoga County.
"There aren't too many Republicans with '-ich' at the end of their names," Mr. Voinovich, said, referring to their shared Slavic ancestry. Mr. Voinovich, a Republican who is completing his second and last term in the U.S. Senate, was mayor of Cleveland and governor of Ohio.
Mr. Kasich, 58, a former Columbus-area congressman, is seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in the election Tuesday.
He made a swing through northeast Ohio Thursday with stops in Solon, Cleveland, and Fairview Park.
A new Rasmussen Reports survey released Thursday showed Mr. Kasich ahead 48-44 percent among 750 likely Ohio voters, with a 4-percentage point margin of error.
Governor Strickland said his own polls show him with a 2-point lead.
Mr. Kasich said the visit at Sterle's Slovenian Country House on East 55th Street - a German-Polish restaurant in the middle of a largely African-American neighborhood - took him back to his own ethnic roots in Pittsburgh, where he grew up. He said his mother was Croatian and his father was Czechoslovakian.
"I think about those people I grew up with. I think about the ethnics, the values, love of God, respect your elders, you know, you can get anywhere you want to get to. And that's what I think about when I do anything - are they pleased with me?" he said.
"It's unbelievable," Mr. Kasich said, thinking about his rise from what he portrayed as hard-working, humble beginnings. "I'm going to be governor. I'm ready to be governor."
Mr. Voinovich, who said his family were Serbians who lived in Croatia, echoed the complaints Mr. Kasich has made this week about the tenor of the Strickland campaign.
"When I ran for re-election as governor in 1994, I ran on a platform of promises made and promises kept and we haven't seen any of that in this election," Mr. Voinovich said. "It's all been negative against John."
The Strickland campaign has said Mr. Kasich is overreacting to the rough and tumble of statewide Ohio politics.
The Republican Governors Association, acting independently of the Kasich campaign, spent more than $1 million in late summer on television commercials that slammed Mr. Strickland with the line, "he didn't get the job done."
Also Thursday, the Strickland campaign produced statements from three people saying they heard Mr. Kasich call for the consolidation of school districts - something Mr. Kasich has denied.
The campaign released a statement signed by two school board members and a school district treasurer that they were at a meeting Sept. 24 in which Mr. Kasich said he would consolidate some of Ohio's 613 school districts.
"His comments were not off the cuff. He defended consolidation as a budget-cutting mechanism and defended his support for consolidation when questioned about it by some members of the group," said the statement, signed by Chris Mohr, treasurer of Springfield City Schools; Cathy Johnson, a member of South-Western City School board, and Sharon Manson, a member of the Waverly City school board.
Mr. Kasich said the three signers were wrong.
"It's just absolutely untrue. I don't know who these three people are, but they certainly are misquoting me," Mr. Kasich said in an interview with reporters in Fairview Park.
"What I said was there was a drive in the legislature to take a look longer-term at the idea that there could be some consolidation, but in the short term that's not an issue here. The issue is shared services, repealing unfunded mandates," Mr. Kasich said.
He said sharing school administrators is one way of sharing services, but that he never has proposed a plan for consolidating districts.
The Strickland campaign said the school-consolidation issue is an example of Mr. Kasich backpedaling from a prior position.
Mr. Strickland said Thursday he supports cooperation and sharing of services among K-12 schools.
"I think that's a very different kind of approach than the heavy hand of state government trying to dictate or require certain actions to be taken," he said at a Democratic Party headquarters in the Columbus suburb of Worthington.
The governor also dismissed the suggestion that his praise of a report by the Brookings Institution that recommended, among other things, that the number of Ohio school districts be dramatically reduced amounted to an endorsement.
"It was a large report, and there's some good, positive things in there. Because you say something positive about the report doesn't mean you endorse every aspect of it. I certainly don't endorse that aspect of it," Mr. Strickland said.
In the morning, Mr. Kasich greeted diners at the Chicago Deli in Solon, Ohio, where local Republicans had been alerted and appeared to have filled up the place.
Republican Jack Schron, 62, a candidate for a seat on the newly created Cuyahoga County Council, said the corruption scandal involving Democratic officeholders and party leaders is tamping down Democratic enthusiasm while giving Republicans a reason to vote.
He said Republicans haven't won a countywide office in years, but the creation of an 11-district county council has made it possible for a Republican to get elected.
"It's the first time there's been a real reason for a long time for Republicans to come out to vote in Cuyahoga County on a Cuyahoga County-related issue," Mr. Schron said.
Contact Tom Troy at: