Why is Romney losing in Ohio?


Apart from the super obvious reasons like Romney is not relating to voters, perhaps the most fascinating dynamic that could be hurting his chances in Ohio revolve around the idea that John Kasich and Mitt Romney aren’t on the same page.

From a September 26th CNN article, called – “Why Romney is losing must-win Ohio”

“At a recent campaign event in conservative Owensville, a fiery Kasich boasted that ‘Ohio is rocking!’ — moments before turning the microphone over to Paul Ryan, who proceeded to issue dire warnings about Obama’s economic policies.

The mixed messaging has rankled Republicans in the Romney and Kasich camps. Both sides have done their best to keep the tensions under wraps, but they occasionally spill over into public view.

Rex Elsass, Kasich’s media consultant and a longtime adviser, told CNN that Romney is ‘running counter to the reality and the perception of people in Ohio.’ “

Why are the two men who control the biggest bully pulpits in Ohio not able to unite behind a message? Do they even have a common goal? Why is this happening?

First – Kasich can’t support Romney’s message, because he doesn’t embrace Romney’s ideas

This observation forces the need to answer a number of questions which actually involve Obama and the origins of a conflicting message on Ohio’s economy.

Back in June, people were furious with me for comparing Kasich to Obama, but the simple truth is that – the idea wasn’t mine. I bolstered a point being made by Fortune Magazine in their article, “A Republican governor’s Obama-like jobs plan.” The author makes the case, and I agree, that Kasich is actually using Obama-like solutions to address Ohio’s economic issues.

And what does that mean to messaging and positioning for Romney, Kasich and Obama? When Kasich’s approach to Ohio’s economy is closer to Obama’s plan, it means that he can’t help Romney champion a free market vision for Ohio and the nation that actually works (Romney rhetoric to record jokes aside).

Through support for Jobs Ohio and Third Frontier, Kasich has been happy to take taxpayer money and pick winners and losers by pushing loans with your money, or bribe companies with credits and subsidies also originating with your money. Kasich is basically being what Veronique de Rugy calls “pro-business,” but not “pro-market.” Others like me would call it crony corporatism.

Sound familiar? It should. Remember Obama’s Solyndra? Remember Obama’s desire to push credits and subsidies on select green companies and industries regardless of their viability in the market?

Or how about Kasich’s latest angle on energy policy? He wants to quadruple taxes on oil and gas extraction in Ohio. Ignore for a moment, it’s being billed as tax code modernization even though it’s a huge wealth redistribution scheme.

Just focus on the effects of energy policy like this. Doesn’t it sound familiar? Obama’s war on natural resources of all kinds comes to mind. Obama is using the EPA to crush profit while Kasich is doing it through proposed tax increases.

How about Kasich’s approach to Ohio’s labor environment which, like Obama, does not support Ohio becoming a right to work state? Romney supports right to work.

We can also look at Kasich pushing spending increases in Ohio, not spending cuts. Once again, more like Obama’s rhetoric than Romney’s.

So what does this mean? It means Kasich and Romney can’t unite on message when Kasich is using Obama style policies and then trumpeting them as working. His approach to the economy does not match up with what Romney is selling. The message can’t be consistent, because the approaches aren’t consistent.

Second – Kasich and Romney are selling different conclusions on Ohio’s current condition and confusing voters

Kasich says Ohioans are better off since he took office, and Romney says Ohioans are worse during Obama’s tenure, so who is right?

The answer is that Kasich is focusing on the unemployment rate, but that only tells part of the story. Recent reports from Matt Mayer at Opportunity Ohio and James Trutko of Trutko Associates really shed light on this problem.

From Opportunity Ohio’s report:

“Out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Michigan and Ohio are the only states where the labor force decline exceeded the increase in the number of unemployed workers from January 2008 to May 2012.”

“Without a doubt, Michigan and Ohio have added jobs over the last few years. The labor forces in those states, however, have declined since April 2009. Failing to account for all the unemployed workers misrepresents how Michigan and Ohio really are doing. That false narrative may serve elected officials well, but it does little to help Michiganders and Ohioans make decisions about their futures.

This is an incredibly powerful point. The numbers are changing, not because jobs are exploding and the Ohio economy is thriving. Over half of Ohio’s drop in unemployment was due to labor force contraction, not employment gains. This alters voters’ understanding of Ohio.

Trutko’s report expands on this point:

“Ohio’s Labor Force decreased by 190,000 (-3%) since Jan 2007. Most (-170,000) occurred since July 2009.”

“Unemployment was 205,000 lower than Jan 2010, but 115,000 (55%) of reduction was due to persons leaving labor market.”

Both reports make the point that a key measure of Ohio’s economic recovery should be stronger job growth, rather than the reduced unemployment number.

While done at different times, and by different authors – both of these reports tell us like Trutko reports, “Ohio’s job growth has been weak and inconsistent during the recovery.”

He points to the fact that Ohio’s total employment was 5,350,000 in July of 2012, and that is only about 285,000 (-5%) less than in Jan-2007.

The other wholly unappealing point which is ignored by everyone in Republican politics is that the trend line for unemployment numbers had begun changing under the Strickland administration, not Kasich. In fact, the trends show no significant change from the less than 1% a year job growth rate that was established at the end of the Strickland administration.

I have no love lost for Strickland, as I think he didn’t do anything to address the fundamental problems facing Ohio, and overall made them worse – but Kasich is showing no difference. The trends were in place despite the policies put forward by either of these men.

Kasich is simply dying for his narrative to work. He needs his narrative to work. But, truth be told – Ohio isn’t booming. It’s moving along with moderate growth, just like the rest of the US struggling to recover from interventionist and anti-market policies that have been built up for generations under various Ohio governors and DC politicians. The fundamentals must be fixed, and no one has done this.

So what does this mean? Voters are being misled, operating under skewed perspectives and witnessing a bizarre political dance. Kasich has to service his recovering image, and Romney can’t push back against the most powerful Republican in Ohio, especially in the wake of the successful Kasich takeover of the Ohio GOP which is important to any chance Romney has in the state.

As that CNN report says, “…Republicans close to the campaign have groused privately that Kasich is bringing little to the Romney effort beyond appearing at campaign events…”

The article also says,  “One Washington-based GOP operative involved in the campaign and closely watching Ohio accused Kasich of not doing enough to help Romney win the state. No single swing state Republican has been less willing to criticize President Obama at important junctures in this campaign than John Kasich,” the Republican told CNN. ‘Anyone who doesn’t want an Obama second term should be furious at him.’ “

Voters are interpreting what anyone who cares to pay attention can digest – they have one voice in Romney hesitant to embrace favorability challenged Kasich and his Obama-like policies, and one voice in Kasich trying to salvage his first term as Governor and prepare for his re-election and what many have rumored is more likely – his run for the Presidency in 2016.

This formula does not work.

Are there other factors effecting Ohio? Of course there are. Diversity in Ohio’s economic recovery depending on industry sectors, shifting make up of Ohio’s voting population, candidates that just don’t resonate with Ohio voters and the list goes on.

But at the end of the day, no one can deny – this awkward Kasich-Romney dance matters because it significantly alters messaging, therefore shifting the way voters think about this election.

And all this didn’t cost Obama a penny. How pleased he must be.

For anyone wanting the best electoral trend analysis and most reliable predictions on this election, check out Nate Silver whose record includes calling every single US Senate race correctly in the last Presidential election in addition to calling 49 of the 50 states for the Presidential race. Dude knows his stuff! You may not like what you see, but I always find good data and honest assessments lead me to make the best decisions.

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  1. Sir,

    I enjoyed reading your article for the first time, after being referenced to it from a liberal site that I frequent daily. I will continue to read it for an opinion that may differ from my own.

    One thing, the reason why Gov. Kasich isn’t talking loudly about “right-to-work” issues is because Ohioans smacked down Gov. Kasich’s attempt to weaken public sector unions via Senate Bill 5 last year. It was voted down by 63% of the voters.

    Also, Governor Kasich’s tax increase on the Oil & Gas industry is part of the fracking boom happening in eastern Ohio. He wants to raise the tax from a paltry 3 or 4 percent to a rate closer to surrounding states’ rates, but still lower.

    His plan was to give it back as a small tax break to all Ohioans, but his fellow Republicans have shot it down.

    Anyway- thanks for allowing comments, I hope to read more from you in the future.

    • Yes, I do know about all the dynamics in Ohio. All too well in fact.

      I know that the Columbus politicians wrongly confuse SB5 results with how voters interpret right to work efforts. when workplace freedom is polled in Ohio – it polls off the charts. Groups I work with conducted a poll immediately following the SB5, vote and it looked great. So did Quinnapiac and it looked great. And, lots of historical polling in Ohio indicates the same thing. Heck – event the polling during the SB5 debates and campaign showed workplace freedom as well liked.

      SB5 and the singular issue of giving workers the freedom to choose whether they pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment viewed in completely different ways by voters. Columbus is just to concerned about their re-elections to entertain anything, but what keeps them in the safe and happy hole of self-preservation.

      http://www.ohioansforworkplacefreedom.com to join that cause.

      As for the severance tax….well, you may want to read a little more on this one. If you think its ok to apply the equivalent of a 40% tax increase to one group of people and give the money to another group of people not remotely connected to the business or profit all of their hard earned money – then you believe in redistribution of wealth.

      And past that – you need to consider what this means to potential investors in this industry. The largest gas exploration company has already stopped expanding in Ohio, and another just decided not come into the state.

      Since this proposal has been announced, Ohio dropped 12 spots on best places to invest for energy according to the Global Petroleum Survey of 2012. We are now behind our neighbor West Virginia, who has the same shale deposits. Instead of being a top place, we are moving to middle of the pack.

      Kasich wants to kill the energy boom before it even arrives. Learn more at http://www.ohiotaxpledge.org

  2. Unfortunately I could not agree with you more – and have watched the dance come all the way down to the county level, where I think we are still dealing with the Kasich / DeWine debacle and a fragmented party structure. “Top Down” does not work well in corporate or politics – especially if there are “2” who think they are both the top dog, both issuing different messages downstream to the same folks. Poor Romney – once again many oars in the water pulling in different directions as we in the Republican Party watch our boat go round in circles……

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