"I don't spend most of my life thinking about an election and what my opponents may or may not say about me." That's how Ohio Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland responded to the Associated Press recently when asked if he was risking his re-election chances by pushing the state legislature to delay a 4.2% state income tax cut scheduled to go into effect shortly. His fellow Democrats can be forgiven for thinking Mr. Strickland has just doomed Democratic chances of holding onto power in the state.
Three years ago, the Ohio Republican Party looked deflated and in retreat. Mr. Strickland had handily beaten Ken Blackwell, a rising African-American GOPer, to win the governorship, and Democrats saw a good chance to take the presidency in 2008 by taking Ohio -- which is precisely what Barack Obama did. But it now appears that the Democratic ascendancy in the state could be short lived. We've spoken with several Republican operatives on the ground and there is little of the residual defeatism we've seen among other Republicans elsewhere. For one thing, the GOP has a slate of candidate who have no connection to the scandals and out-of-control spending of previous GOP years. For another, John Kasich, a former congressman and Fox News anchor, is running for governor and has quickly established himself as credible alternative to Mr. Strickland.
A Rasmussen poll late last month found Mr. Kasich leading 46% to 45%. In Congress, he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee and was known as a hawk on spending. All this makes him a candidate perfectly positioned for the tax issue, arguing that the Strickland plan amounts to an $844 million tax hike in the midst of a recession. Democratic State House Speaker Armond Budish has been reduced to trying to split hairs over whether a tax cut delayed is tantamount to a tax hike: "When you look at the numbers, the numbers don't lie. Nobody is paying more than they did in 2008, in 2009. I don't see how that can possibly be viewed as a tax increase."
Mr. Budish clings to a slim seven-seat majority in the state House. Republicans already control the state Senate. If Mr. Kasich is able to sweep Mr. Strickland from office next year, his coattails might be long enough to flip the state House to the GOP. Suddenly Ohio is looking a lot more like the red-state it used to be.