With the 2014 election
now less than a year away, a poll showing Democratic challenger Ed Fitzgerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, narrowing the gap with Gov. John Kasich might be raising eyebrows among Republicans in Columbus. Or maybe not.
The poll released last week by Quinnipiac University showed Kasich leading FitzGerald, the presumptive Democratic nominee, by 44 percent to 37 percent. That's a substantial gain for the Democrat, who was behind Kasich by 14 percentage points during the last poll, which was completed during the summer.
One way to read it would be that FitzGerald is drawing within striking distance of Kasich.
At the same time, however, 71 percent of those surveyed said they didn't know enough about FitzGerald to render an opinion on him, which underscores a major Achilles heel for the Clevelander, one that he will have to work hard to overcome if his bid to deny Kasich a second term is to be competitive.
And, while the gap between the two candidates seems to have narrowed enough to fuel FitzGerald's hopes of upsetting Kasich, there are other numbers that spell good news for the governor: He has a 52 percent approval rating, a solid indication of popularity and a considerable gain from his midterm polling numbers, which were in the 30s. Half of those surveyed believe he's handling the economy well, and are more likely to blame President Barack Obama if they are dissatisfied. Of those polled, 72 percent believe Ohio's economy is improving, which is likely to be a major theme in the governor's re-election campaign. Kasich also leads among most categories of likely voters.
Fitzgerald is energetic and aggressive and shows no signs of pulling his punches as the campaign gears up in earnest. He appears to be a much more engaged candidate than Gov. Ted Strickland, the incumbent Democrat unseated by Kasich in 2010 after a lackluste campaign.
A major hurdle, it seems, is that FitzGerald needs to raise his media presence. While he may be reasonably well known in Northeastern Ohio -- although the Cleveland TV media markets are probably not as strong in terms of political clout as they were a generation ago -- he still must find a way to engage "downstate" voters. Without a strong showing in at least two of the "three C's" -- Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati -- it is difficult for any candidate to win the governor's office.
FitzGerald probably doesn't need to be reminded that the last Cuyahoga County Democrat to run for governor -- then-County Commissioner Tim Hagan -- went down to defeat in 2002 at the hands of an incumbent governor, Bob Taft, by more than 600,000 votes in 2001. Hagan carried only six of Ohio's 88 counties against Taft, who was no political ball of fire.
Kasich, like FitzGerald, is energetic and aggressive. He thrives on campaigning, with a personable, down-home charm that plays well with voters, especially in one-on-one settings. He has a clear agenda, one that he is adept at promoting and defending. He is likely to hammer away at the theme that Ohio is in much better shape than it was when he took office.
Whether Kasich gains a second term or becomes another single-termer like Ted Strickland will be up to the voters to decide after what is likely to be a hard-fought contest with FitzGerald. While the Cleveland Democrat may be encouraged by the poll numbers now, the numbers that will count won't be tallied for another 11 months. In the meantime, Ohioans can look forward to a lively campaign.