- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Republican Gov. John Kasich is fond of saying, “What’s next?” And that seemed to be the question on everyone’s minds after Republicans’ sweeping victories across Ohio Tuesday.

Should GOP wins for governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, Ohio Supreme Court and state Legislature be interpreted as a mandate for Republican policies?

Or, as the party’s detractors suggest, were Tuesday’s results simply the opinion of a smallish percentage of registered voters willing to turn out despite a lackluster Democratic contender at the top of the ticket?

Republican consultant Terry Casey said the message sent by Republican victories means a lot when coupled with the party’s takeover of the U.S. Senate and its convincing gains in the U.S. House.

“There’s no magic guide that says, ‘Oh, if you get this (percentage) for governor, it means this or means that,” Casey said. “You have to watch the bigger national tide.”

But the former elections official says low turnout can’t be ignored.

According to final unofficial results, Kasich won nearly 64 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s contest, compared to less than 33 percent of Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald and 3.3 percent for Green Party candidate Anita Rios. That’s a huge margin of victory - higher than any governor in modern memory other than Republican George Voinovich, who garnered nearly 72 percent of the vote in his 1994 re-election bid against Democrat Rob Burch.

Here’s how turnout plays a role.

Kasich’s 64-percent slice of the pie on Tuesday amounted to 1,922,241 votes out of a little over 3 million cast, unofficial totals show. That same total would have amounted to 50 percent of the vote in the 2010 governor’s race (when 3.8 million people voted); less than 48 percent of the vote in the 2006 statewide race (when 4 million people voted); and just 33 percent of the Ohio vote in the 2008 presidential election that first sent Barack Obama to the White House (when almost 5.8 million people voted).

University of Cincinnati political scientist David Niven said the weakness of Kasich’s opponent FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, also helped the governor win big.

“This is like when the Buckeyes beat one of those Little Sisters of the Poor teams. Of course they won when they had such a weak opponent,” he said. “But Kasich can also look around the country and say that governors who govern well don’t get competitive races, and I was clearly one of those governors.”

Niven said it will be difficult for Kasich to deny fellow Republicans who also enjoyed big wins on Tuesday some movement on their priorities as a result of the election results. The most contentious pending bills include right-to-work legislation limiting the ability of public and private unions to compel dues payments and the so-called Heartbeat Bill restricting abortions.

Kasich has said he sees no reason to pass right-to-work legislation right now, and he’s said little about his thoughts on the heartbeat measure other than to reiterate that he’s an opponent of abortion.

A coalition of abortion rights groups rushed a statement out as soon as Kasich’s victory was declared Tuesday to insist voters had not elected him because they like the abortion-related laws he and the GOP-led Legislature have passed.

They were countered by Ohio Republican Chairman Matt Borges, who raised the subject of Tuesday’s vote being a mandate in his official statement - adding that Kasich had earned one through improvements he brought to Ohio’s economy and government programs.

Brian Rothenberg, executive director of the liberal policy group ProgressOhio, predicted that Kasich - mentioned as a prospective presidential contender in 2016 - might well translate the win into a stepping stone to higher office.

“If you give John Kasich an inch, he’ll take a mile,” Rothenberg said. “He has a mile here, so he’s going to run a marathon. I’m just not sure he’ll finish the marathon.”

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