COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Republican John Kasich coasted to re-election as Ohio’s governor on Tuesday, leading an across-the-board GOP sweep of statewide offices.
Kasich’s victory over Cleveland Democrat Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, was expected after the challenger’s campaign missteps left him seriously behind in polls and fundraising.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a potential 2016 presidential contender like Kasich who chairs the Republican Governors Association, called Kasich’s victory “commanding” and said it meant “four more years of jobs, growth and prosperity are in store for the Buckeye State.” The RGA spent $4 million in the race.
Kasich, 62, told supporters at a downtown victory rally that voters backed his campaign because Ohio’s Republican party has made efforts to help many groups, including those who are mentally ill, drug-addicted and poor.
“I think what we’re beginning to do in our state, with all of your help, we’re beginning to show the rest of the country that by reaching out, by having a good head and building a strong economy, but a good heart that recognizes the struggle of those who oftentimes have been left behind, people now in Ohio feel included,” Kasich said. “They feel optimistic, they feel hopeful.”
FitzGerald’s troubles and the lack of a U.S. Senate race or any statewide ballot issues were among factors that kept people from the polls.
Kasich’s approval ratings dropped after he lost a 2011 collective-bargaining battle against public employee unions, but FitzGerald’s weakened campaign was unable to serve as an effective mouthpiece to remind voters of that and push other Democratic issues.
Ultimately, Kasich’s message that he had added jobs after a punishing national recession and made efforts to rein in Ohio government spending and cut taxes won the day.
There was also evidence that Kasich’s decisions to support moderate political positions such as supporting Medicaid expansion allowed under the federal health care overhaul resonated with voters. In early unofficial returns, Kasich had more than 62 percent of the vote, to 35 percent for FitzGerald and very close to 3 percent for Green Party contender Anita Rios.
Kasich not only won most among most demographic groups, but he also did better than four years ago among blacks, moderates, voters without a college degree and even Democrats, according to the preliminary results of an exit poll conducted for the AP and the television networks.
The poll of 1,680 Ohio voters found FitzGerald’s support was mainly limited to reliably Democratic voters. But even in the Democratic stronghold of the Cleveland area he calls home, FitzGerald only managed to split the vote with Kasich.
For Democrats, all the news in statewide offices was bad.
Voters swept incumbent GOP statewide officeholders back into office, and returned to Republican justices to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Secretary of State Jon Husted beat state Sen. Nina Turner of Cleveland and Attorney General Mike DeWine beat back an aggressive challenge by Cincinnati lawyer David Pepper. Also, Auditor Dave Yost and Treasurer Josh Mandel won a second terms over Democratic state Reps. John Patrick Carney and Connie Pillich respectively.
For the high court, Kasich appointee Judith French managed to hold onto her seat against Cuyahoga County judge John O’Donnell, whose Irish surname was considered a positive among voters. Fellow Republican Sharon Kennedy easily beat state Rep. Tom Letson, allowing the GOP to retain its 6-1 majority on the court.
Republicans also maintained control of both chambers of the state Legislature, picking up seats in the Ohio House.
In his concession speech before a subdued crowd in Columbus, FitzGerald urged Democrats to keep fighting for their principles.
“I just want to say that this campaign from the very beginning was waged against the odds, it was waged against great concentrations of wealth and power - because of the single overriding belief that I have, and I know that you have, that Ohio wasn’t serving the best interests of its citizens…,” he said. “And it’s really important that those convictions that I have and that you have survive this campaign.”
The former FBI agent called it “a privilege and an honor” to have gotten to speak with hard-working Ohioans across the state and tell their stories.
Kasich won handily Tuesday after a series of missteps and negative revelations weakened FitzGerald’s campaign and his ability to get out his message. With about a fifth of votes counted, Kasich was leading with 64 percent of the vote to FitzGerald’s roughly 32 percent.
In remarks before a sparse crowd of loyal Democrats in downtown Columbus, FitzGerald said his campaign was waged against the odds and “great concentrations of wealth and power” because of his conviction that the state was not being well served by the current administration. He urged Democrats to continue to push their priorities.and
Ohio Republican Chairman Matt Borges said Kasich’s victory sent a signal about Republican support among Ohioans.
“When you look back at the jobs created and the lives lifted over his first term, there is little doubt that Gov. Kasich delivered for Ohio and earned the mandate he received tonight,” Borges said in a statement.
In a joint statement, four abortion rights groups issued a statement challenging the idea voters delivered Kasich a mandate.
“We are disappointed at the outcome of the election, but we are clear that the results do not signal a statewide endorsement of Governor Kasich’s anti-choice policies,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, New Voices Cleveland, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio and the clinic Preterm. They said, “By no means is the fight over.”
Associated Press writer John Seewer contributed to this report.
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