Thursday, December 11, 2014

In Arizona, the first hints of what a John Kasich presidential campaign might look and sound like

PHOENIX, Ariz. – As he wrestles with another run for president, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is trying keep his political maneuverings above the fray and below the radar.

Case in point, the Republican isn't racing would-be rivals to early caucus and primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, and he hasn't been linked to top strategists who craft White House campaigns. Instead, Kasich came here this week to launch a national tour pegged around a single issue: balancing the federal budget.

Arizona is not a big electoral prize. It ranks higher, though, than Idaho, which Kasich also hoped to visit this week before scheduling problems got in the way.

But while Kasich publicly played the problem-solver in the desert, the slightest signs of a possible presidential bid began to surface behind the scenes.

Backed by a new nonprofit group that can raise unlimited cash, Kasich traveled to Phoenix with an unusually large entourage. He also widened his political circle, adding Sarah Nelson, a western states operative in Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign who will help Kasich navigate the same terrain on his balanced budget tour.

Most interestingly, Kasich dined privately Tuesday with Greg Wendt, who was a major fundraiser for U.S. Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign and a sizable donor to the Restore Our Future Super PAC that supported Romney.

Read the full story

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

With John Kasich's big win, Ohio Republicans roll toward 2016 while Democrats face tough questions

COLUMBUS, Ohio – John Kasich got what he wanted Tuesday.

By making easy work of Ed FitzGerald, the Republican scored the kind of sweeping landslide that Ohio voters haven't awarded a sitting governor in 20 years.

With 99.67 percent of precincts counted, Kasich had 64 percent of the vote, compared with 33 percent for Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive whose campaign began with towering promise and ended in ruins. Green Party activist Anita Rios of Toledo had 3 percent.

"The new Republican Party!" Kasich cheered as he took the stage at the Renaissance Downtown Columbus Hotel.

"This is just not another election, another political campaign," Kasich told his supporters. "This is a movement to restore the hope in our state, and maybe it can even become contagious with hope being restored all across the United States of America."

Read the full story

More coverage: 7 storylines for the next 734 days in Ohio politics

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Democrats hoping to salvage 2014 are looking past Ed FitzGerald and down the statewide ballot

Publicly, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald soldiers on and tells us he has not given up on his bid to unseat Gov. John Kasich.

Behind the scenes, though, key Democratic insiders and allies have all but written FitzGerald off while looking down-ticket for a consolation prize, three sources close to the party and the campaign have told the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

These sources and others – a collection of political operatives and advisers – spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid open sniping that could hurt the Democrats even more this fall.
Most agree that FitzGerald's mess is largely of his own making and that Monday's staff exodus stems from pronounced disappointments and disagreements that emerged in recent weeks amid a torrent of damaging revelations and negative publicity.

Read the full story

More coverage: 8 decisions that will haunt Ed FitzGerald

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Under Ed FitzGerald, Cuyahoga County had disciplined employees for lapsed driver's licenses

Reported and written with Andrew J. Tobias

As Cuyahoga County executive, Ed FitzGerald has disciplined employees for not holding a valid driver's license – something the former FBI agent and Democratic candidate for governor himself lacked for years.

In 2013 his administration punished at least eight employees, with penalties ranging from a written reprimand to a five-day suspension without pay, according to documents the Northeast Ohio Media Group obtained through a public-records request. (scroll down to view the records)

The county's inspector general first began reviewing potential violations of the county's driving policies last year, months after FitzGerald obtained his first permanent driver's license in more than a decade. More than 150 other driving-related infractions involving other county employees remain under investigation and could yet result in discipline.

FitzGerald's own license lapse came to light this month, after NEOMG reported that police in suburban Westlake found him parked in car with a woman who was not his wife at 4:30 a.m. on Oct. 13, 2012. FitzGerald was not cited, and he and police maintain nothing inappropriate happened. But the county executive had a learner's permit, meaning he could drive only with a licensed driver 21 or older. He has acknowledged driving home alone after dropping the woman at a hotel.

Read the full story

Friday, August 1, 2014

Ed FitzGerald, 4:30 a.m. and the woman not his wife

Ed FitzGerald's bid for governor took a tumble Friday, as potentially damaging revelations pulled him from the campaign trail and forced him to defend himself while accusing Gov. John Kasich of masterminding a scheme to smear the Democratic challenger.

The Cuyahoga County executive said he and Joanne Grehan, whom he identified as a friend visiting with an Ireland delegation, had not done anything inappropriate when Westlake police confronted them at 4:30 a.m. on Oct. 13, 2012.

Officers had responded to a call about a suspicious car at an industrial complex. FitzGerald, who said he and Grehan were trying to locate a half-dozen lost friends, was not charged with a crime. One of FitzGerald's top aides, who was driving the other friends, later said they never got lost.

The police recordings and a brief report obtained by the Northeast Ohio Media Group disrupted FitzGerald's planned day of politicking and threw yet another hurdle at his underdog bid. The former FBI agent postponed two events after learning that a story about the incident was about to be published.

Read the full story

Original story: Call about suspicious car led Westlake police to Ed FitzGerald and an unidentified woman in 2012

More coverage: FitzGerald aide says Irish delegation was delayed, not lost on night of Westlake incident | What we know -- and what we don't -- about FitzGerald's 4:30 a.m. encounter

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cleveland's challenge in hosting the Republican National Convention: Balancing security with desire to show off downtown

As they made Cleveland's case to land the Republican National Convention, civic leaders talked earnestly about their intentions to show off a city on the rise and a downtown renaissance of cultural and culinary delights.

From The Q, where the main events will be staged, it's normally an easy walk to Playhouse Square or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. East Fourth Street, where several celebrated local chefs have restaurants, is a basketball pass away.

But the convenience in seeing these sights will depend on how local planners deal with security. At times officials here will face a delicate prospect: balancing the need for safety with their desire to make a grand impression on the rest of the world.

Read the full story

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A day on the road with Gov. John Kasich: More talk of faith, no talk of Ed FitzGerald and mixed signals on 2016

TIPP CITY, Ohio – Whether he acknowledges it or not, Gov. John Kasich is back on the campaign trail, returning Tuesday for the first big road trip of his re-election year.

He toured two factories and stopped by a bowling alley. He trumpeted an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business and bragged on Cleveland, the soon-to-be-official host of the 2016 Republican National Convention.

The GOP incumbent's three-city swing through southwest Ohio, ending here after stops in Hamilton and Dayton, was filled with clues about the race he plans to run against Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the Democratic nominee.

Some clues were obvious, others harder to crack. But let's consider them all.

Read the full story

Monday, May 12, 2014

Ohio's governor is on a mission to reshape conservatism. Will it get him where he wants to go? John Kasich 5.0

Fitting John Kasich into any one box is a challenge.

There's the spiritual man with a cache of stories about how growing up in a Catholic blue-collar home instilled in him faith, compassion and pluck. There's the hyperkinetic pol whose abrasiveness sometimes overshadows his ability to reach across the aisle and make a deal.

You also have the presidential hopeful who once described himself as a Jolt Cola in a world of Coke and Pepsi. And what about the compassionate conservative who emerged around that same time and returned in recent years? Or the Tea Party patron he morphed into temporarily when he made his political comeback?

When evaluating Kasich's body of work, it helps to look at Ohio's governor in these five iterations, often overlapping but with one or two usually defining him more than the others at a given moment in time.

You can read my series on Kasich, from start to finish, by following the links below.


Part I: In a working-class town outside Pittsburgh, the son of a mailman hones his ambition in the Catholic Church, strikes out on the ball field and thrives on talk radio. They called him Pope – because being a mere priest wouldn’t do for John Kasich.

Part II: John Kasich arrives in Columbus in a bluster. In short order he takes on Ohio State University, Gov. James A. Rhodes and a couple of entrenched Democrats. And he builds a prickly reputation that balances self-promotion and pragmatism.

Part III: With a grunge-rock playlist, a self-described Jolt Cola attitude and a bucket of other pop-culture references, John Kasich runs for president.

Interlude: Recovering politician bides his time at Lehman Brothers and Fox News.

Part IV: John Kasich roars out of political hibernation. He takes on unions, calls a cop an idiot and shakes up the Ohio Republican Party. But when his poll numbers tank, he rushes back to center and aims to redefine conservatism.

Epilogue: Will he or won't he? Assessing the likelihood of another run for president.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gov. John Kasich and Sheldon Adelson: A duet

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- It's a tried and true trick of public speaking: Find a few friendly faces in the crowd, make good eye contact -- maybe even recognize them by name.

Though the lunchtime audience Saturday at the Republican Jewish Coalition's spring conference totals roughly 300, Ohio Gov. John Kasich treats it as a constituency of one.

And why not? This, the Venetian and Palazzo Hotel, Resort and Casinos, is Sheldon Adelson's house. The organization is closely associated with the Las Vegas mogul. The objective? To find a presidential prospect worthy of the billionaire's backing in 2016.

So Kasich, more so than any of his peers, drops all pretense. He laces his 30-minute speech with direct appeals and shout-outs to the host with the most. Starting with the fifth or sixth, one national reporter loudly guffaws with each utterance of "Sheldon."

On Twitter, Ed FitzGerald's campaign manager will cheekily drop a YouTube link to Will Smith's video for "Just the Two of Us." Later, The Washington Post will describe the speech as if it were a "one-on-one chat" between Kasich and Adelson. And a Las Vegas writer will opine that Kasich "sucked up most directly and obviously to Adelson."

Of the half-dozen or so references Kasich made to Adelson, here were the highlights:

Read the full story

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Gov. John Kasich plays his hand at the 'Sheldon Primary' in Las Vegas fundraising pitch

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Gov. John Kasich can say all he wants that he isn’t interested in running for president. Yet here he is this weekend, along with a few others whose national ambitions are far less ambiguous, rubbing elbows with top donors.

Kasich delivered the luncheon keynote Saturday at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring conference, held at casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s opulent spread on the strip.

“All the things we believe in? They work,” Kasich told a ballroom crowd of about 300.

Read the full story

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why does Cuyahoga County's inspector general review Ed FitzGerald's campaign contributions?

Ed FitzGerald has enlisted Cuyahoga County’s inspector general to examine his political donor lists – a practice that critics of the county executive and Democratic candidate for governor believe is an improper use of taxpayer dollars.

Republicans see the frequent reviews as a campaign service performed exclusively and free of charge for FitzGerald by his handpicked investigator on county time.

But FitzGerald’s spokeswoman says the second set of eyes protects county employees and appointees from unknowingly violating an ethics law that FitzGerald championed.

Read the full story

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Gov. John Kasich and Ed FitzGerald move into defining phase of 2014 campaign: Analysis

Ohio’s race for governor has reached an important phase.

Define or be defined? That’s the question Republican incumbent John Kasich and probable Democratic nominee Ed FitzGerald are facing as their campaigns enter spring.

Kasich for the moment seems content to define only himself and avoid any direct engagement with his opponent. His recently introduced budget review provides a sense of his priorities for his re-election year and beyond. And when speaking across the state at GOP dinners, a reliable outlet for partisan politics, Kasich sticks almost entirely to policy.

If he were president -- and FitzGerald really wants you to believe that Kasich wants to be -- observers might call this a “Rose Garden” strategy. Kasich will pay FitzGerald no mind until he must and in the meantime use the powers of his office to project strength.

As the challenger, FitzGerald spends far more time picking apart Kasich’s record than talking about his own. The Cuyahoga County executive paints the governor as a creature of Wall Street with one eye out for his rich friends, the other on the White House.

So, for the moment, neither side is doing much, if anything, to define FitzGerald. That is certain to change – and very soon. And there are numbers that help explain why.

Read the full story

Monday, February 24, 2014

Gov. John Kasich leaves politics bubbling beneath the surface in State of the State speech: Analysis

MEDINA, Ohio – Ed FitzGerald equates the path to the November election with a retailer’s return counter. Voters, the Democrat says, are lining up to make an exchange.

Republican Gov. John Kasich, whom FitzGerald is working to unseat, doesn’t deal in such analogies. Nonetheless, the final State of the State address of his first term was the equivalent of hopping on the in-store intercom to make a case for four more years.

Kasich’s speech was not overtly political. He has yet to utter FitzGerald’s name in public, let alone engage the Cuyahoga County executive directly, and he wasn’t about to start here Monday. But as far above the fray as Kasich hopes to appear, it’s impossible to evaluate his remarks outside the context of his campaign for a second term. It’s almost as tough to consider them outside the context of a possible run for president in 2016.

Read the full story

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Pausing for a moment to observe the politics of Ed FitzGerald's final State of the County: Analysis

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald has had his eyes on Gov. John Kasich’s job for a long time – since before either man began his term.

That thought was inescapable Wednesday as FitzGerald delivered the annual State of the County address before a packed ballroom at the Cleveland Convention Center.

Someone else will give this speech next year. FitzGerald, who chose to challenge Kasich rather than seek re-election this fall, will be sitting in the governor’s chair or, if he loses, perhaps a law firm. And he treated the forum as an hour-long highlight reel. Literally. Sprinkled throughout were four videos – a novelty that began wearing off after No. 2.

Unsurprisingly, the Democrat also sprinkled in some politics. So setting aside the policy initiatives front and center in the speech, what political undertones were present?

Read the full story

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ohio Democratic Party is Ed FitzGerald's biggest donor -- and his biggest expense: Ohop Politics Roundup

Here’s another way to look at the substantial contributions that the Ohio Democratic Party has made to Ed FitzGerald’s campaign for governor.

For FitzGerald, it’s only a net gain of about $65,000.

That’s the difference, according to a Northeast Ohio Media Group analysis of fundraising data, between what the party spent on FitzGerald and what FitzGerald spent on the party.
Confused? It breaks down like this.

Read the full story

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Will 'War on Women' messaging work for Ed FitzGerald and Democrats in 2014? Analysis

Abortion is a medical issue, women’s rights issue, family issue and moral issue. And early in this year’s race for Ohio governor, it is the issue.

Democrats and their likely candidate, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, have made it so with their moves and their messaging in the first weeks of 2014.

The state party’s new ground game coordinator spent 2013 in Virginia, where she assisted a winning gubernatorial bid that emphasized the Republican candidate’s hardline positions on abortion. FitzGerald’s new running mate, Sharen Neuhardt, ran twice for Congress but is known as well in political circles for being an abortion-rights activist.

And with Neuhardt on the ticket, the Democratic statewide slate chose for its first group appearance an endorsement event at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio.

The pieces weave together to form a “War on Women” narrative against Republican Gov. John Kasich. But the strategy brings some risks and no promise of rewards.

Read the full story

Monday, January 20, 2014

Late and lonely on the campaign trail, Todd Portune deliberates Democratic race for governor: Analysis

It’s decision time for Todd Portune.

The Hamilton County commissioner has returned home to the Cincinnati area after spending much of the last two weeks on the road. His objective: To gauge how successful he would be if he challenged Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald in a Democratic primary this spring for the right to face Republican Gov. John Kasich in the fall.

The answer might be staring him in the face. Or not, which is kind of the problem.

Portune’s travels have been a lonely exercise. Only nine people showed up to hear him speak in Lima last week. A party for him near his alma mater, Oberlin College, also was a small affair. The next day he discussed his possible campaign with the Northeast Ohio Media Group over lunch in Cleveland – after another appointment canceled.

Read the full story

Friday, January 17, 2014

Ed FitzGerald chooses Dayton-area attorney Sharen Neuhardt as his new running mate

Democrat Ed FitzGerald reset his campaign for governor Friday, selecting Dayton-area attorney Sharen Neuhardt as his new running mate.

A twice-failed candidate for Congress known as a staunch defender of abortion rights, Neuhardt replaces State Sen. Eric Kearney, whose business-related financial problems became a distraction to the campaign and forced him from the ticket last month.

FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive and frontrunner to challenge Republican Gov. John Kasich in the fall, is expected to introduce Neuhardt at a Saturday rally in Dayton. The Northeast Ohio Media Group first reported Neuhardt as FitzGerald’s pick Thursday evening after an unintentional clue from one of FitzGerald’s county administrators.

Read the full story

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Ed FitzGerald likely to reveal new running mate Friday -- here's a fearless prediction of who it will be

Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive and Democratic candidate for governor, says he has picked a new running mate. Based on comments he made here Thursday and on signals from his campaign, an announcement is due Friday.

And that’s where any semblance of certainty ends.

Read the full story

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Are Dennis Kucinich and Todd Portune joining forces against Ed FitzGerald in Ohio governor's race?

The early days of a gubernatorial election year bring plenty of tips to a political reporter’s inbox. Many don’t pan out, and others we drop quickly because of their absurdity. But here’s one that became even more intriguing after we went directly to the subjects.

On Wednesday, a source told the Northeast Ohio Media Group of a telephone poll in the works that asks voters about a hypothetical Democratic ticket pushing former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich for governor. Kucinich’s running mate in this scenario: Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, who is openly exploring a run for the top spot.

The Ohio Democratic Party is aligned behind Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald as its candidate against Republican Gov. John Kasich. Portune expressed interest in a primary challenge last month, after FitzGerald’s first running mate, State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati, dropped off the ticket due to his financial problems.

Read the full story

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Besides Kasich vs. FitzGerald, 5 other Ohio campaigns you should be watching in 2014

The race between Republican Gov. John Kasich and his Democratic challenger – likely Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald – will be the main event in Ohio politics next year. But there are some intriguing campaigns shaping up on the 2014 undercard.

A few notes on what’s worth watching:

Read the full story