COLUMBUS — The word of the night at Saturday’s 2014 Ohio Republican Party State Dinner, right down to the opening prayer, was “jobs” as Republicans worked to rally the election-year troops.
“We work every day to make Ohio business friendly, and we’ve come a long way,” Gov. John Kasich said. “We’re up a quarter million jobs. ... That’s filling Ohio Stadium two and a half times ... Economically, we’re doing really well. I don’t see anything that can hold us back. I think we’re just scratching the surface. I think we can go up and down the field and continue to score touchdowns.”
Republicans are hoping to repeat their 2010 sweep of every statewide executive office, from treasurer to governor.
“This isn’t about another election. This is about a movement,” Mr. Kasich said. “... This is about a movement that they’re watching across the country. ... I believe that as we raise Ohio and we bring common sense, and faith, and respect, and hope, and the right formula, there’s no question that our best days are ahead.”
The keynote speaker for the state Republican party’s biggest fund-raiser, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, is a former Republican National Committee chairman and was head of the Republican Governors Association in 2010, when Mr. Kasich was elected governor.
He urged roughly 730 attendees at the dinner at downtown’s Renaissance Hotel to keep their eye on the ball and not look ahead to 2016. Mr. Kasich is among those mentioned as a potential contender on the presidential stage in two years, assuming his re-election in Ohio this year.
“2016 will take care of itself ... because what happens in 2014 in Ohio, and Nevada, and Georgia, and Connecticut has a whole lot more to do with whether we elect a Republican president in 2016 than what somebody does in maneuvering to try to do X, Y, and Z in the 2016 election,” he said.
He also addressed friction within the party that has led the Tea Party faction to mount intraparty challenges in primaries.
“There’s only one perfect person who ever walked on this earth, and he’s not going to run next year,” Mr. Barbour said.
The Republican Governors Association has already launched its television campaign to bolster the governor’s re-election over Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald.
The ad paints the same picture that Mr. Kasich has painted on the campaign trail — and again Saturday — of a state previously in trouble, having nearly emptied its budgetary reserves, but now on the road to recovery under his administration.
Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges said he looked back to the night when Mr. Kasich announced his candidacy for governor about five years ago.
“I listened to [his speech] again the other night, and he could give that same speech right now, and it would be topical and timely — about digging Ohio out of the ditch, about getting budgets balanced, about cutting taxes, about creating a better business environment,” Mr. Borges said. “That has always been the mission.”
Mr. FitzGerald’s spokesman, Daniel McElhatton, said that for all the talk of jobs Saturday night, the governor still doesn’t understand middle-class problems.
“He doesn’t get the fact that he hasn’t had a real focus on their concerns,” he said. “He’s been more concerned with the most well-off in Ohio. The middle class is worried about the future, and the governor doesn’t get that.”
Democrats are counting in part on the unions and other organizations that dealt Kasich an embarrassing blow in 2011 when voters rejected at referendum Republican-backed restrictions on public employees’ collective bargaining. Mr. FitzGerald on Friday met with the Ohio Education Association, where the rallying cry, and even a fight song, was about Senate Bill 5.
Lucas County Republican Chairman Jon Stainbrook said there are signs the anti-Senate Bill 5 crowd has not held together.
“I’m up in northwest Ohio where it’s Democrat ground central and unions. The building trades unions maxed out to John Kasich,” Mr. Stainbrook said. “They realize, and the governor has said that in his own admission that he may have overstepped that a bit. ... He has moved on and learned from that, and people accept that. ... There’s nobody holding that against him, and if there is, FitzGerald’s such a weak candidate.”
In addition to the party faithful, the crowd included a few independents, including Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins and his predecessor, Mike Bell, as well as Libertarians. Mr. Collins attended with his Republican wife, Sandra Drabik, who was a member of the George Voinovich administration.
“I’m Switzerland,” he quipped, referring to that nation’s famous neutrality.
Contact Jim Provance at: email@example.com or 614-221-0496.