- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Working-class Ohioans: The candidates for Ohio governor want you.

If the airwaves are any indication, scoring support among the blue-collar and union workers around the state is pivotal to the fall election that pits Republican Gov. John Kasich against Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive in Cleveland.

“I think that both campaigns see it as the governor’s primary weakness, that you could paint both him and his policies as having a wealthy person-first mentality,” said David Niven, an assistant political science professor at the University of Cincinnati. “The governor looks to shore that up, and Mr. FitzGerald looks to remind people of that.”

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FitzGerald’s first television ad began airing statewide Wednesday, in a buy worth $250,000 the first week. It opens with this line: “Who’s the promise of Ohio meant for? Just the wealthy and well-connected, or the average Ohioans who get up early and get it done every day?”

The 30-second commercial is showing on Columbus and Cleveland broadcast channels and cable stations in other markets statewide.

The spot follows the opening question with a pledge by FitzGerald to get Ohio “working for working people.” The visuals are rich with images of blue-collar workers, farmers, firefighters, police and teachers.

Three months ago, the far better-funded Kasich campaign, which had $8.5 million in the bank to the FitzGerald camp’s $1.5 million at last reporting, launched its TV presence with a blue-collar message as well.

The biographical spot, which went up before Kasich’s unopposed May primary, emphasized his blue-collar roots in a Pennsylvania steel town as the son of a mail carrier father and immigrant mother. It also touched on his time at Ohio State University and his work to balance the federal budget as U.S. House budget chairman in the 1990s.

Niven said the strategy, for Kasich, was effective: “He needed to be seen as a person, and I think his ads hit that mark.”

FitzGerald’s ad neither conveyed a highly specific message nor a compelling universal one, Niven said. That made it mushy.

“The difference is entirely position,” he said. “If FitzGerald were ahead, an ordinary ad would be perfectly serviceable. But you’re not going to win an uphill battle with ordinary ads. If he’s got an extraordinary campaign idea, it’s time to bring it out.”

While Kasich is ahead in polls, Democrats believe the 2011 battle over a law he’d signed that limited the collective bargaining powers of public employee unions still looms large in this year’s governor’s race. Kasich saw some of his lowest approval ratings during a ballot battle that ended in the law, Senate Bill 5, being overturned. His popularity has since improved.

FitzGerald and Kasich are disagreeing over whose favored economic policies can do more to help average Ohioans. FitzGerald preaches support for local governments, universal pre-school and affordable college tuitions, while Kasich touts income-tax breaks, exemptions and credits he’s backed, expanded job training programs and the streamlining of credit transfers between high school and college.

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