In a state badly hurting from the recession, Republican challenger John Kasich narrowly defeated Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in one of the most closely watched races in the nation.
Kasich's triumph Tuesday capped a GOP sweep of statewide executive offices, including attorney general, secretary of state, auditor and treasurer.
Kasich pumped both fists in the air as he took the stage at the GOP victory party in Columbus about 1:15 a.m., according to The Plain Dealer. "Guess what?" he shouted to supporters. "I'm going to be governor of Ohio. . . . We have to do it together and rebuild this state together."
He took 49 percent of the vote, edging out Democrat Strickland, who finished with 47 percent and appeared to have momentum in the closing days. President Obama and Vice President Biden had appeared together on his behalf in Cleveland on Sunday.
Various polls had shown Kasich in the lead for months, often by double digits, and while the gap shrank significantly in the past few weeks, it wasn't enough for Democrats to hold the governor's chair. More than $25 million was spent on the race just by the two major candidates, not taking into account independent expenditures by outside groups.
Heading into election night, Strickland and his campaign believed the contest was close. In several interviews, he talked about the significant Democratic organization efforts focusing on turnout and the state's early voting, which began on Sept. 28. Just last month, Strickland predicted, "If we get our people out to vote I'm going to win. There are more of us than them."
The Strickland campaign made 246,343 phone calls to targeted voters -- more than 2,000 calls per minute -- in the first two hours the polls were open Tuesday. They also had more than 1,500 canvassers going door to door in targeted communities.
The Ohio Democratic political organization is impressive: By some counts it is the third largest Democratic political operation in the country behind the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But in the end it wasn't enough for Strickland to overcome a depressed economy and high unemployment. While polls showed Ohio voters saw him as likable, he was blamed for job losses and for companies leaving the state. The Republican Governors Association ran television ads on behalf of Kasich saying nearly 400,000 Ohio jobs were lost on Strickland's watch.
Kasich, a boyish-looking 58-year-old, is a former congressman who served as chairman of the House Budget Committee during the last Republican Revolution and took credit for a role in balancing the federal budget under President Clinton. He went on to host a show on Fox News, campaigned briefly for president in 2000, and most recently ran Lehman Brothers' investment banking division in Columbus. In 2008, Kasich earned more than half a million dollars in salary and bonuses from Lehman, not long before the company collapsed. His investment banking credentials were targeted by Strickland on the campaign trail.
"I think we can have great progress in Ohio within one year. I absolutely believe that we can begin to turn this around," Kasich told Politics Daily
last month. Despite a projected budget shortfall that could hit $8 billion and force unpopular decisions about budget and program cuts,
Kasich promised tax cuts, a reduction in government regulation and an aggressive economic development program headed up by private sector CEOs.
Strickland, a 69-year-old former prison psychologist and pastor, ran for the U.S. House three times before being elected in 1992 and lost a bid for re-election in 1994 during the last Republican wave. But he won a rematch in 1996 and served in Congress for 10 years before deciding to run for governor four years ago. He was elected governor in 2006 with 61 percent of the vote, a 23-point margin over his GOP opponent, Kenneth Blackwell. He carried 72 of 88 counties.
Always a state to watch, the Obama administration and the Democratic Party paid a great deal of attention to Ohio and especially its governor's race. Since taking office, Obama has visited Ohio a dozen times. Just two days before the election, Obama and Biden appeared at a rally for Strickland and other state Democrats: Two weeks earlier the president and first lady appeared at another campaign event at Ohio State University in Columbus.