Ohio GOP in power struggle ahead of 2012 vote

JULIE CARR SMYTH Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- A battle for control of the Ohio Republican Party is pitting the chairman who oversaw the GOP's resurgence in 2010 against Republican Gov. John Kasich, the man who led that ticket.

Ohio's GOP is considered among the nation's most powerful party operations for mobilizing voters in favor of state and national candidates. Its power, influence and cash are all factors in the rift.

No Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio.

Chairman Kevin DeWine has characterized Kasich's efforts to oust him as a distracting and expensive "elephant in the room." He says the feud could jeopardize the party's efforts to deliver the battleground state this fall to the Republican challenger to President Barack Obama.

"He's famous for hope, right?" DeWine said in a December address to the central committee. "Well, right now Mr. Obama is hoping that the Republican Party in the most important swing state in America will turn against itself instead of turning out the vote."

With DeWine insisting he'll serve his full term ending in January, Kasich allies recruited a slate of challengers to the 66-member GOP state central committee that they believe will support the chairman's ouster. The executive committee's new lineup, elected March 6, could call a vote on DeWine's future this spring. Both sides say they have the votes to win such a showdown.

In a December television interview, DeWine as much as called Kasich's effort a power grab.

"There are folks who are close to the governor -- agents and allies, and lobbyists and political consultants -- who are trying to take over the party for the benefit of holding all the levers of power as it relates to politics of the Republican Party," he told The Ohio News Network.

House Speaker Bill Batchelder became enraged at DeWine's comments. He issued a memo to his caucus questioning a chairman who publicly insulted the governor, and ticked off a series of ways in which DeWine had failed to make the state party's resources available to Republicans running for legislative seats.

He said DeWine employed "questionable leadership tactics and poor decision making."

DeWine has since begun tempering his public statements on the issue. But tensions have yet to dissipate.

A county GOP chairman in northeast Ohio told The Columbus Dispatch this month that the governor's allies offered him influence over gubernatorial appointments if he didn't run for a central committee position he's held since 2008.

Portage County's Andrew Manning has sent a notarized affidavit to the FBI, county prosecutors and the state inspector general detailing his claims that friends of Kasich's relentlessly tried to pressure him to leave the race. The governor's spokesman denied any involvement.

Batchelder has suggested DeWine has entangled the party with a pair of political consultants who brought "shame and ill repute" to the Ohio House in 2004.

Brett Buerck and Kyle Sisk were fired by then-House Speaker Larry Householder after federal investigators began looking into allegations the two aides and Householder laundered campaign contributions.

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute, but the flap put an end to Householder's political career and contributed to a Democratic sweep of statewide offices in 2006.

The party has paid nearly $1.7 million to Buerck's direct-mail firm, Majority Strategies Inc. of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., since 2010.

The campaigns of Secretary of State Jon Husted have also used the firm, records show. DeWine was among members of then-House Speaker Husted's leadership team before he become party chairman.

Pegged as one of the GOP's rising stars, Husted could benefit from having such an ally at the head of the state party if he pursues higher office.

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.