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Published: Tuesday, 9/4/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

Democrats start party by eyeing Ohio Gov. Kasich

Ex-Gov. Strickland to speak to convention audience today

First Lady Michelle Obama appears on stage with actor Kal Penn for filming a campaign video as a Secret Service agent watches the floor where the hall is being readied for the Democrats' convention. First Lady Michelle Obama appears on stage with actor Kal Penn for filming a campaign video as a Secret Service agent watches the floor where the hall is being readied for the Democrats' convention.

CHARLOTTE -- It may be the 2012 Democratic National Convention, but on Monday there was plenty of salivating over going after Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2014 and reminiscing over 2011's war over collective bargaining that's added fuel to that fire.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a rising star in the party and head of the Democratic Governors Association, told Ohio's delegation that many voters are experiencing "buyers' remorse" in their narrow election of the Republican former congressman over Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland.

Mr. Strickland, who will speak to a prime-time convention audience tonight, was in the crowd at Monday's breakfast meeting. So was another potential Democratic contender for Mr. Kasich's job in 2014 -- Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald.

Mr. Fitzgerald last week made the unusual move of issuing his own video response to Mr. Kasich's primetime speech at the Republican National Convention.

A Democratic primary race for governor could get crowded. Others mentioned for potential runs include U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, of Youngstown, and former Ohio attorney general and now federal director of consumer protection Richard Cordray.

"The people of Ohio will determine their nominees, but I believe that Ohio is always a state that prefers to move forward and not back," Mr. O'Malley said. "The sort of ideological bent that John Kasich has brought to the tough job of governing is not in the best interest of the people of Ohio."

Tuesday marks the start of the Democratic counterpunch to last week's Republican convention in which Mitt Romney accepted the party's nomination inside an arena. After two days of speeches and voting inside Time Warner Arena in Charlotte, President Obama's party will move to nearby Bank of America Stadium to accept the Democratic nomination under the stars.

Most of Ohio's delegation, however, was already in the city and ready to start business -- and partying. Much of downtown Charlotte was roped off for a public celebration complete with outdoor concerts and carnival rides.

It was no surprise that on a day celebrating labor that Senate Bill 5 would be in the cross hairs of the Ohio delegation's first meeting. The law restricting the bargaining rights of public employee unions was killed by voters in November.

The law undoubtedly hurt Mr. Kasich's popularity numbers, but more recent polls have shown a sudden uptick in public approval. The better numbers have coincided with an Ohio economy that has been recovering slowly but still more rapidly than the nation as a whole.

Union leader Lee Saunders, a Cleveland native, entertains Ohio delegates at a breakfast meeting. Union leader Lee Saunders, a Cleveland native, entertains Ohio delegates at a breakfast meeting.
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Ohio's unemployment rate is more than a full percentage point below the national average.

"There's no doubt that our economy is getting better and that we're moving in a better direction," Mr. O'Malley said. "We still have a ways to go before we recover all that we lost in the Bush recession.

"Almost every Republican governor will acknowledge that we're now creating as a country rather than losing jobs every month as we had been," he said. "I suppose a victory has a thousand fathers. I think John Kasich has been more of the problem than part of the solution.

"President Obama's turnaround of the auto industry is so very important to the country's economy and more important to people of Ohio given the predominance of manufacturing in Ohio," Mr. O'Malley said. "That's something John Kasich opposed. Mitt Romney opposed it. They said we should have let the auto industry go bankrupt."

Mr. O'Malley declined to embrace any candidate, but he called Mr. Strickland "my friend" and praised his "courageous principled leadership" compared to Mr. Kasich's ideology.

"If it's the President's national policies which are responsible for Ohio's resurging economy, why is Ohio doing so much better than nearly every other state?" Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols asked. "The fact is that Ohio has 16,000 fewer auto-related jobs than it did in December of 2008. How can an industry that is 16,000 jobs in the hole be responsible for the 122,500 jobs recovery we've seen since Gov. Kasich took office?"

Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, a voting delegate, said Democrats are looking enthusiastically to 2012 "because of what Kasich tried to do as soon as he came into office, and that was to go after collective bargaining, go after voter rights, to help draw these contorted gerrymandered lines that tilt the playing field unfairly against Democrats."

He noted that Mr. Kasich eked out a narrow victory in 2008 over Mr. Strickland.

"It's not as though he has to lose a lot of support to be in danger in 2014," he said. "The fact that he is vulnerable is one of the reasons you see a lot of enthusiasm."

The breakfast meeting devoted to labor had a moment of levity when Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union and Cleveland native, placed an empty chair next to his podium a la Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention.

"You don't have anything to say?" he asked the imaginary Eastwood. "Mr. Romney doesn't have anything to say. Paul Ryan doesn't have anything to say."

He knocked the chair over at the end of his bit.

"OK," cautioned Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern. "Now, we have a deposit on the furniture. It's a $25 deposit we'd gladly give up."

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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