COLUMBUS (AP) -- The running mates of GOP Gov. John Kasich and his Democratic rival have been taking on the role of deflecting attention from the candidates on tougher issues.
Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, also Ohio's insurance director, has consistently criticized President Barack Obama's federal health care overhaul, a popular target of the party's conservative base. She's done so as Kasich walked a careful political line and pushed for Ohioans' expanded access to Medicaid under the law.
Likewise, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald's running mate, Yellow Springs attorney Sharen Neuhardt, is vocal on abortion rights, a liberal mainstay. That's freed FitzGerald, a Catholic, to remain obtuse about his personal views on the issue.
"He's stated his political position in favor of abortion rights, but his personal opinion is unstated," said David Niven, a visiting political scientist at the University of Cincinnati. "It's not in his comfort zone. It's not about the local government fund or the kind of thing he could talk about for six hours without notes."
Dan Birdsong, a political science lecturer at the University of Dayton, said few voters base their decision on a running mate.
"They can be harmful to some degree, or maybe somewhat helpful, but usually they aren't a determining factor in a person's choice for governor -- or for president, for that matter," he said.
Meanwhile, Niven said, Taylor brings diversity to the Republicans' otherwise all-male statewide ticket and, at 48, a bit of youth.
"She's younger, and even though they espouse nearly the same political philosophy, you can more plausibly say she's a contemporary voice and not someone whose start in Ohio politics was during the Carter administration," he said.
It's the opposite for Neuhardt. At 63, she's the oldest member of the Democrats' statewide ticket, which has a mix of gender and race.
FitzGerald's first pick for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Eric Kearney, was forced to exit the race after criticism surrounding unpaid debts. Birdsong said the apparently inadequate vetting of Kearney may yet resonate with Ohio voters, given questions of judgment arising for FitzGerald over his lack of a permanent driver's license for about a decade.
Taylor has been embroiled in a controversy after irregularities were discovered on the timecards of her chief of staff and the aide's assistant and they both resigned. Democrats have sued in Ohio Supreme Court for additional records in the matter, even as Kasich and FitzGerald face lawsuits seeking access to similar records that might illuminate their comings and goings on the job.
Neuhardt says she remains focused on reminding average Ohioans that Kasich's economic recovery isn't working for everyone. In one of the key roles of a running mate, she's helping the campaign cover ground across the large, populous swing state.
"There's a big disconnect between the way people in upper-income brackets are experiencing this economy and how middle-class Ohioans are faring," she said. "What we're trying to do is verbalize what everyday Ohioans are thinking. There's a huge financial disparity."
Taylor is representing the Kasich administration and the campaign at a slew of events, including at a pro-coal rally in Pennsylvania and an endorsement announcement this week by the Ohio Society of CPAs.
"(Kasich) understands the urgency of the issues we need to resolve," she said. "He understands that we can't kick the can down the road. We have to come up with real solutions for today's problems to make Ohio a place where you will want to continue to live and raise your children."