- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Republican Gov. John Kasich and Democratic rival Ed FitzGerald will focus this fall in their campaigns on Ohio’s economic position and how that has hit or benefited workers and businesses in the state.

Before Tuesday’s primary, the well-funded Kasich campaign had already launched a series of biographical TV ads emphasizing the governor’s blue-collar roots along the Ohio River, albeit on the Pennsylvania side, and his views on economic growth.

Kasich will point throughout the campaign to Ohio’s unemployment rate falling to the lowest level in six years on his watch and to his efforts to balance the state budget, cut taxes and add jobs.

FitzGerald, 45, of Lakewood, will criticize the economic comeback celebrated by Kasich as disproportionately benefiting his wealthy business-owner friends.

The Cuyahoga County executive - a former FBI agent, prosecutor and mayor - hinted at the debates to come in the speech he delivered after his victory in Tuesday primary against little-known challenger Larry Ellis Ealy.

“All of those who haven’t been invited to John Kasich’s ‘miracle’ economy, we’re going to speak up for you,” FitzGerald told supporters. “If you’re one of the almost 50 percent of Ohioans who are living paycheck to paycheck, I will be speaking up for you. If you’re one of the 10 percent of Ohioans making a minimum wage, I’ll be speaking up for you.”

The 61-year-old Kasich, a former congressman and Lehman Brothers managing director, responds directly to critics in the ads. He says being well off doesn’t prevent a person from working to help others.

“I’ve always had sort of an underdog mentality about things,” he says in the ad. “Because you have power, because you have wealth, so what? I mean, economic growth and prosperity shouldn’t be limited to a few.”

More than half of Ohio voters in a Quinnipiac University poll released in February named economic issues - jobs, wages, budget and taxes - as their top concerns. That’s why the governor’s race will focus on fiscal issues, said Peter Brown, assistant director of the poll.

“Clearly, the economy is the most important issue in the campaign,” Brown said. “The question is, do voters credit Gov. Kasich with a better economy? When an incumbent is up for re-election, the critical question in voters’ minds is, do voters think they’re better off than they are four years ago?”