Cuyahoga County executive Ed FitzGerald, Cleveland’s real life Irish version of Philadelphia’s fictional prize fighting “Italian Stallion,” has already lost next year’s race for Governor of Ohio to incumbent Republican John R. Kasich, according to some who say the race is Kasich’s to lose.
Combining his wide name recognition after two years of constant coverage by the media of his “at the speed of business” CEO style, which was preceded by 18 years in congress and years hosting an appropriately named Fox TV political talk show, “The Heartland,” with his anticipated fundraising prowess and daily ability to make news, it appears Gov. Kasich is sitting in the catbird seat.
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But while Gov. Kasich is widely known by Ohioans, a Quinnipiac poll shows he still doesn’t break the 50-percent threshold for reelection. When given a choice between Gov. Kasich and a list of once potential Democratic challengers that included Ed Fitzgerald, Buckeye voters keep the governor underwater.
Ed Fitzgerald, the former FBI special agent that successfully fought crime in Chicago, has little name recognition around Ohio so far, which means he has to work overtime to be competitive with Gov. Kasich in campaign funds. And unless he widens policy gaps with the glib governor to the point where Mr. Kasich has to explain why his positions on controversial topics like marriage equality are justified to the detriment of FitzGerald, the county executive cannot knock Kasich out of the headlines.
Gov. Kasich will show his news making ability Wednesday when he speaks at the Memorial Tournament Honoree Ceremony, where golf god and tournament sponsor Jack Nicklaus is expected to be, then travels to Wilmington the next day for a celebration announcing the arrival over the next three years of 440 jobs, which for a small city southeast of Dayton is a far cry from the 7,500 men and women who DHL laid off in 2008 to stop bleeding in its US Market.
Learning from last year
In the wake of last year’s national election for president, that pit incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama, running for a second and final term, against a duo of GOP challengers—former Massachusetts Governor and private equity capital mogul Mitt Romney and social and fiscal conservative running mate, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan—who lost the election in part because they lost Ohio, the tipping point battleground state. Ohio went to President Obama by about 166,000 votes in part because the White House embraced the LGBT community, including marriage equality. The candidates who championed them won while the ones that didn’t lost.
FitzGerald outs his position on marriage equality
So when Ed FitzGerald endorsed full equality for all Ohioans, as he did in an interview in the May edition of Outlook Magazine, Gov. Kasich, whose position is not supportive of marriage equality, appears not in sync with a growing chorus of majority of voters who increasingly are for it.
Fitzgerald discussed his support for full equality, including marriage and ending housing and employment discrimination, in the published interview. A spokesmen said FitzGerald would be the first governor in the history of the state to support full equality for all Ohioans.
“I believe in full equality for all Ohioans, and that includes the LGBT community, and that includes issues not just related to marriage, but also employment and housing,” the 44-year old Fitzgerald, a former mayor of gay-friendly Lakewood, Ohio, west of Cleveland, said.
The only Democratic candidate to declare he’s ready to take on Gov. Kasich, said his support for full equality, including marriage, is as simple as supporting basic civil rights for all Ohioans, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
“Part of being a Democrat is fighting for equality for all people. We should not have a law that discriminates against gay and lesbian couples in Ohio. The fabric of our state is diverse, and we all deserve to stand on equal ground,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Marriage provides the greatest security for loving, committed couples and their families, especially in times of crisis. If elected governor, I will do everything I can to help in the fight for marriage equality and work to end housing and employment discrimination for all Ohioans.”
For Gov. Kasich, this gap between him and potential opponent Ed Fitzgerald may not work in his favor in 2014, as women who out number and out vote men are far less hostile to the LGBT crowd than their male counterparts. Gallup has reported that 53 percent of Americans say the law should recognize same-sex marriages, the third consecutive reading of 50 percent or above in Gallup polling over the past year. The 53 percent in favor ties the high to this point, also measured last November and in May 2011.
Does Kasich have a tolerance gap?
Gov. Kasich came of political age during the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s and went on to benefit from the “Contract With America” takeover of the U.S. House of Representative in the 1990s under then-Georgia Congressman and soon to become House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who installed Congressman Kasich as chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, a position occupied by losing VP nominee Paul Ryan.
Gov. Kasich has waffled on his position, saying he supports civil unions but not marriage equality. A spokesman for the governor says his boss remains opposed to them.
“The governor’s position is unchanged,” Rob Nichols said in a statement to reporters earlier this year in March. “He opposes gay marriage and opposes changing Ohio’s constitution to allow for civil unions.”
When asked about Ohio’s junior senator’s decision to come out in support of gay marriage once Rob Portman learned his son was gay, Gov. Kasich gave a non-answer answer. “I talked to Rob and encouraged him,” WEWS-TV reported. “If people want to have civil unions and have some way to transfer their resources, I’m for that. I don’t support gay marriage.”
With that statement, Gov. Kasich became the second high-profile Ohio Republican to decline to join Portman in endorsing gay marriage. The other one, House Speaker John Boehner, said he continues to oppose gay marriage, and “can’t imagine” his position ever changing, Politico reported.
FitzGerald’s chess move
By endorsing marriage equality, Ed FitzGerald has made an opening policy chess move against Gov. Kasich. The incumbent governor understands how slim his winning margin in 2010 was [about 77,000 votes statewide] and doesn’t want to lose votes by turning voters off, which he’ll do if he continues his opposition to marriage equality.
But Gov. Kasich doesn’t have just a fight with Democrats and FitzGerald to look forward to, he also has a flanking opponent in the form of Tea Party activists who think the governor and his troop of political operatives just want to coop them for purposes of winning an election, but who really have no intention of placing their policies, like limited government and lower taxes, into law.
But should he have a change of heart, as President Obama did last year when Vice President Joe Biden announced his support for it, Gov. Kasich then further angers Tea Party movement activists who see support for marriage equality, an expansion of Medicaid and support for Obamacare as treasonous positions at best or against God at worst.
One LBGT advocate said that for Gov. Kasich to claim civil unions are “separate but equal” to marriage like black school systems were to white school systems, is to still promote discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Ed Fitzgerald may not be drinking raw eggs for breakfast or running triumphantly up the steps of city hall in Cleveland, but he is finding ways to create important policy gaps between himself and Gov. Kasich, who Capital Square watchers say holds many important cards for next year. But the governor’s office now knows it’s fighting more than the just the Democrats and FitzGerald on issues like expanding Medicaid, proposing bigger state budgets than ever before, spreading the sales tax in order to subsidize income tax cuts for Ohio’s wealthiest class and signing bills into law that make living life as a woman in Ohio that much harder when it comes to health care decisions only a woman and her doctor should make, it’s also fighting its Tea Party flank.
Cool hand Kasich
Gov. Kasich has long sought to align himself with younger voters, saying he wants to make Ohio a “cool” place. For a governor who can claim the mantle of changing demographics, as poll after poll is showing is happening to the chagrin and consternation of Republicans, advocating for marriage equality could indeed be a cool thing.
For a governor who’s politically if not socially unable to detach himself from a policy maker mindset that thinks changing attitudes towards being more tolerant of social diversity is bad, cool is decidedly not the right word. For a society that not very long ago would have nothing to do with marriage equality, politicians who can get on the bandwagon, as Ed FitzGerald has done, will be with voters whose attitude toward and tolerance of new societal norms has changed at the speed of new thinking.
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