COLUMBUS - "Ohio values versus Wall Street values."
"400,000 jobs lost."
Those are the buzz words that Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and Republican challenger John Kasich, respectively, have hit at every opportunity on the campaign stump in the hard-fought, most closely watched gubernatorial election in the nation.
Mr. Strickland - the southern Ohio former congressman, Methodist minister, and prison psychologist - has tried to convince voters that he's made that tough decisions necessary to position the state for economic growth despite the worst national recession in generations.
Mr. Kasich has characterized the nearly four years under Mr. Strickland as a failure as the state bled more than 400,000 jobs and faces a potential budget shortfall measured in the billions over the next two years.
At stake are decisions about how Ohio should cut spending, raise taxes, or both to climb out of a financial hole; how it should set its public pension systems on sound footing, and whether the state will stay the course on energy, education, and job-creation paths already mapped.
Mr. Strickland, 69, characterizes himself as an atypical Democrat, taking on his own party by championing Republican tax reforms, taking on unions by nudging a controversial mandatory sick-leave proposal off the ballot, and picking up endorsements of gun-rights groups that more often support Republicans.
"I've tried to be that kind of governor, to bring a balance, to make sure that my administration has an open door, an open ear, and is willing to sit down with business leaders and discuss their concerns," Mr. Strickland said.
"I think the fact that I embraced the '05 tax reform ought to be very significant to the business community," he said. "John Kasich really trashes our tax system, and he minimizes that 2005 tax reform. That tax reform was fashioned in large part by the business community in Ohio. I think I'm better for business than John Kasich."
Despite the governor's good working relationship with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the organization broke with 117 years of precedence to back Mr. Kasich, 58, a former suburban Columbus congressman, Fox News political show host, and Lehman Brothers manager. His work for Lehman Brothers is often cited by Mr. Strickland in his criticisms of Mr. Kasich and Wall Street.
Neither candidate has said specifically how he would deal with a potential budget shortfall that multiple sources have said could be as big as $8 billion.
"People have to understand that the budget is one issue," Mr. Kasich said. "The biggest issue we have in the state is not the budget. The biggest issue we have in the state is we're losing jobs … We have no alternative but to control our costs and reform as much as we can. … to give people the tools they need. But raising taxes is not an option."
Mr. Strickland called a tax hike at this point "unwise," but he has called taking a no-tax-hike pledge irresponsible.
Mr. Kasich has proposed ridding Ohio of the income tax paid by individuals and small businesses but has not put a timetable on it.
He's pledged to kill the "evidence-based model" reforms for K-12 schools that Mr. Strickland championed and a plan to use $400 million in federal stimulus dollars to restore passenger rail between Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, and Cleveland.
Mr. Strickland has pointed to new renewable and advanced energy source mandates, as well as related tax changes that he championed, as reasons for a burgeoning solar and wind power industry in Ohio.
In addition to the business and income-tax cuts he's largely allowed to run their course and his own tobacco-settlement-fueled property tax rebate for senior citizen homeowners, he notes that Ohio experienced a two-year freeze on college tuition under his watch.
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Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and Republican challenger John Kasich, respectively, have traded economic buzz words at every opportunity on the campaign stump in the hard-fought, most closely watched gubernatorial election in the nation.