Gov. John Kasich's would-
be primary challenger, Tea Party activist Ted Stevenot, has backed out of the race less than a week after saying he would run for governor. Conservative Republicans say they'll continue to seek an alternative to Kasich.
On the Democratic side, Ed FitzGerald, the party's endorsed choice, apparently will be facing a primary challenge from Todd Portune, a Hamilton County commissioner, who says he's in the race to give voters a choice.
With the 2014 campaign in earnest, the conventional wisdom that both Kasich and FitzGerald would sail away with their bids for nomination unchallenged appears not to be holding.
Kasich says he's "too busy running the state" to worry about a challenge from within GOP ranks, and he probably isn't losing sleep about a primary battle. At the same time, however, the governor can take little comfort in the most recent Quinnipiac University poll, which showed FitzGerald, a relative unknown to voters outside of Northeastern Ohio, only seven points behind him. The fact that he continues to face vocal, organized opposition within his own party also could be worrisome.
FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive, stumbled badly in his choice for lieutenant governor. His pick -- State Sen. Eric Kearney of the Cincinnati area -- was forced to drop off the ticket after revelations that he owed close to $1 million back taxes. FitzGerald has yet to name a replacement; his No. 2 choice is likely to draw more scrutiny from the media than Kearney received.
If Portune stays in the race -- he says he is continuing to gauge the extent of his support -- FitzGerald will have the additional challenge of securing his nomination. Kasich, for his part, may dodge a primary but could find himself dealing with a third-party challenge that could siphon votes in a tight race.
While both Kasich and FitzGerald remain odds-on favorites to defeat primary challengers, any opposition diverts resources and, depending on the showing the challengers make, can point to potential vulnerability in the general election.
The last GOP governor to face a primary challenger was James Rhodes, whose 1978 bid for re-election drew opposition from legislator Charles Kurfess; Rhodes beat him 2-to-1 in the primary and won his general election bid. Democrat Richard Celeste faced an anemic write-in challenge in the 1986 primary and went on to win re-election against Rhodes, who made an ill-fated comeback bid.
In 1974, however, James Nolan, a perennial candidate, drew nearly 300,000 votes in his Democratic primary challenge to Gov. John Gilligan, who ultimately lost his second term bid to Rhodes. The GOP candidate took the race by 11,000 votes -- while a Socialist Workers Party candidate took more than 95,000 votes, which was more than enough to cost Gilligan the race.
The governor's race in Ohio, a political bellwether, is likely to draw national attention this fall. Kasich is a scrappy campaigner who is likely to tout the Buckeye State's economic recovery as he makes the case for a second term. FitzGerald, also an adept campaigner, will attempt to put Kasich on the defensive. If either -- or both -- end up facing a primary challenge, that will only make the race more interesting.