Gubernatorial rivals may get challengers

Outside candidates look to battle GOP’s Kasich, Dems’ FitzGerald in primary

Kasich and FitzGerald
Kasich and FitzGerald

COLUMBUS — In a rarity in Ohio gubernatorial elections, both incumbent Gov. John Kasich and Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald may draw friendly fire within their own ranks, forcing them to spend valuable resources to deflect primary challenges when they’d rather keep their powder dry for fall.

Ohio’s economy is struggling, and just as Mr. Kasich’s Democratic challenger would be expected to make that case to voters, Mr. FitzGerald’s campaign has gone all but silent after his choice of a running mate backfired.

Meanwhile, Ted Stevenot, former president of the closest thing Ohio has to a statewide Tea Party, will formally launch his GOP primary challenge on Tuesday.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune is gauging support for a primary challenge to Mr. FitzGerald, the party’s endorsed candidate, but has not made a commitment.

“A primary challenge isn’t the worst thing,” said Jim Ruvolo of Toledo, former Ohio Democratic Party chairman. “In 1982, when I was running the [Richard] Celeste [gubernatorial] campaign, nearly every statewide candidate had a primary challenger, and we were the stronger for it. But we were able to raise enough money after the primary challenge.

“There’s no question a primary can make you stronger, especially someone like FitzGerald, who isn’t well-known,” he said. “But having said that, you always worry about having the resources for the fall election if you have a primary.”

Mark Weaver, a GOP campaign strategist, said it remains to be seen how much impact the primary challengers could have.

“Primaries are never fun, but until these candidates get enough signatures to file and raise enough money to be heard, they’re not a threat to anybody,” he said. “No candidate likes spending money in a primary. They’d rather save it for the general election, but unless the challengers can raise money themselves, the incumbent won’t have to spend much to beat them.”

Mr. Kasich’s championing of Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act and his refusal to sign on to an effort to make Ohio the latest right-to-work state has made him a target from the right.

Mr. Stevenot is a partner at a Cincinnati insurance agency and recent leader of the Ohio Liberty Coalition. He plans a news conference Tuesday to introduce his running mate, Brenda L. Mack of Canfield, former president of the Ohio Black Republicans Association.

It will be an uphill battle. Mr. Kasich’s campaign coffers already contained nearly $4.5 million as of the halfway point of 2012, and the campaign undoubtedly will add substantially to that balance when it files its next report later this month.

Mr. FitzGerald’s campaign is looking at making a fresh start with the new year after faltering in 2013’s waning weeks. The Cuyahoga County executive’s selection of state Sen. Eric Kearney (D., Cincinnati) as his running mate backfired when revelations about Mr. Kearney’s business and personal tax problems led him to leave the ticket.

Frustrated conservatives also have talked of supporting expected Libertarian candidate Charlie Earl as an alternative to voting for Mr. Kasich in the general election. Mr. Earl is a former Republican state representative from Bowling Green.

The Ohio Libertarian Party’s support of the proposed right-to-work ballot issue prohibiting the automatic collection of “fair-share” fees in lieu of dues from nonunion members has endeared to it some members of the tea party. But its support for other proposed ballot issues to legalize same-sex marriage and medical marijuana may not make for a comfortable fit with some conservatives.

Contact Jim Provance at: or 614-221-0496.