The Ohio Republican Party formally endorsed Gov. John Kasich for President last Friday. Given politics such as they are, this is not a surprising move to back the sitting governor of your own party. No other names were even put forth as alternatives despite the fact that Trump (23%) and Carson (18%) were beating Kasich (13%) in the Quinnipiac poll last October with Cruz (11%) polling not far behind. (This is the most recent poll I’ve seen on both RealClearPolitics and HuffPostPollster. I’d be very interested to see something new from Ohio.)
This Kasich endorsement interestingly required a suspension of the rules since the Ohio GOP only endorses incumbents per their instructions. Because Kasich is not an incumbent President, they needed to suspend the rules to make that endorsement. But they certainly could make other endorsements and they did… of themselves!
There are 66 members of the GOP State Central Committee, one man and one woman from each of the 33 State Senate districts, who are running in the March 15 primary. By endorsing themselves, they will have access to campaign dollars donated to the Ohio Republican Party to back any incumbent who happens to face a challenger. The tea parties and other grassroots conservatives have mounted challenges to some State Central Committee members on the grounds that the state party answers to power from above (i.e. Kasich) and not from the Republican voters whom they represent (i.e. voters).
Not every State Central Committee incumbent, however, received the party’s endorsement, and would it surprise you to learn that these individuals are sympathetic to the conservative cause? It shouldn’t! In the video below, we see committee member Gary Burkholder take on Chairman Matt Borges (read more about him here) about his absence from the endorsement list. Later, another member, Lisa Cooper, defends her issue and absence from the endorsement list. Also within this video, a member bravely requested that his name be removed from the list on the principle that a group of people should not be in the business of endorsing themselves!
The March 15 primaries will award about 350 delegates from five of the larger states including Ohio. It is expected that John Kasich will campaign very hard in this state even if he only gains a handful of New Hampshire delegates. Should he win Ohio, Kasich would be a powerful decision-maker if a true brokered convention were to take place in Cleveland.
But I will be looking further down the Ohio ballot… much further… to see how many new faces will be elected to the State Central Committee. The conservative vs. establishment split in the GOP is very apparent in Ohio, and I think it could be rectified with a cultural shift at the state party level.
For well over a decade, and maybe since the time of the Voinovich-Taft governorships, the state party has behaved as king-maker playing state office-holders as chess pieces to be moved rather than allowing voters to decide between two or three qualified candidates. This aversion to primary competition has removed voters from the loop, and grassroots conservatives are asking to allow Republican citizens to have a meaningful vote. This naturally removes power from the top, of course, which is why Matt Borges and his ilk are so passionately protecting their turf.
(It should be noted that Sen. Rob Portman has a conservative challenger in Melissa Strzala, and Reps. Bob Gibbs and Dave Joyce have primary competition as well. Matt Lynch lost his primary challenge to Joyce in 2014 and, with more time and money, hopes to defeat him in 2016. Finally, there is a combination special election / primary election in Ohio’s 8th district to replace John Boehner with a handful of candidates running. Getting 25% in this district may get you the win!)