CINCINNATI — While it’s clear that Ohio Tea Party activists are fired up over recent disclosures that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups, what that will mean to politics in the state is still a little hazy.
The investigation into IRS actions has given people opposed to big government and high taxes a rallying focus in recent weeks.
The case has extra significance in Ohio because the key IRS office involved is in Cincinnati, and organizations such as the Ohio Liberty Coalition, Dayton Tea Party, and several other groups and activists are among those who complained about being subjected to extra scrutiny in their efforts to gain tax-exempt status.
“The Obama Administration should have let sleeping dogs lie,” said George Brunemann, a Cincinnati Tea Party leader who helped organize a forum Wednesday night that brought out hundreds of activists. “They have given people a new reason to be engaged. They were using the IRS as a hammer against us, and they got caught.”
The White House has said none of its senior officials was involved in the targeting, which occurred from 2010 to 2012.
After helping Republicans win big in Ohio in 2010, including the governorship, the Tea Party saw a Democratic president carry their state in 2012 while GOP Treasurer Josh Mandel fell to Democrat Sherrod Brown in the U.S. Senate race.
“Disappointment can lead to a decline in activity; this happens to a lot of groups,” said University of Akron political scientist John Green.
The IRS case has led to “a revival,” Mr. Green said, but he added there had been renewed activity in Ohio by Tea Party leaders over other issues — aimed at state Republican leaders.
Some Tea Party leaders and other activists are unhappy about GOP Gov. John Kasich’s support for expansion of Medicaid coverage and a severance tax on the oil and gas industry.
They are also upset over Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s change of heart for same-sex marriage after he learned one of his sons is gay.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has at times drawn Tea Party criticism on federal budget and debt issues.
Tom Zawistowski, leader of the Portage County Tea Party in northeast Ohio, ran unsuccessfully in April against the Kasich-backed candidate for the Ohio Republican Party chairmanship.
He said Mr. Kasich wouldn’t have unseated Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland in 2010 without Tea Party help, and he said Tea Party activists think Mr. Kasich should be working to scuttle the Affordable Care Act instead of backing the Medicaid expansion.
“People are angry,” Mr. Zawistowski said.
“If you don’t think we can go elsewhere, wait and see,” he said.
If the governor doesn’t bend, Mr. Zawistowski warned, he will oppose his re-election next year even “if the Democrats run Barack Obama for Ohio governor.”