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Kasich sitting pretty, but not home free

Twenty-five months into his term, Ohio Gov. John Kasich has finally hit the “magic number.”

In politics, the magic number for an elected official seeking re-election is 50 percent or more in his or her job approval rating.

You do not want to be running for re-election with an approval rating below 50 percent. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to lose, but it means you have some explaining to do the voters.

Well, this week, for the first time since he became governor in January 2011, he surpassed the 50 percent mark, according to a Quinnipiac University poll of 1,011 registered voters.

Actually, Kasich’s job approval rating spiked all the way to 53 percent, up 11 percentage points from where it was in December, the last time Quinnipiac polled Ohio voters.  In this new poll, 32 percent said they disapproved of his job performance.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent, so, statistically at least, he could be a hair under 50 percent. Or he could have an approval rating of about 56 percent.

Either way, he’s a heck of a lot better off than he was two months into his term as governor, when his approval rating was a microscopic 30 percent.

And when it comes to the potential Democratic candidates for governor in 2014, Kasich leads them all, according to the Quinnipiac Poll.

He has a 10 percentage point lead over Cuyahoga County Executive Edward FitzGerald, six percent over former Ohio attorney general and state treasurer Richard Cordray (who now heads the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), eight percentage points over U.S. Rep Tim Ryan of Niles, and seven percentage points over former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, who was defeated last fall when redistricting threw her into the same district as Republican incumbent Jim Renaci.

“What a difference a few months make,’’ said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the polling institute at the Connecticut university. “Not long ago, Democrats were licking their lips at the prospect of taking on an unpopular governor who had a disapproval rating in the 50s. Now his job disapproval rating is just 32 percent and his chances of re-election appear to be much better than they were thought to be as recently as December.”

But before the Kasich political team don lampshades, hop on their desks and start doing the Harlem Shake, they might want to study a little recent Ohio political history.

In a Quinnipiac University poll released in February 2009 – at roughly the same point before the 2010 gubernatorial election as we are at today for the 2014 contest – the Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, held a massive 30 percentage point leader over Kasich – 56 percent for Strickland, 26 percent for Kasich.
Strickland lost that 2010 election to Kasich by about two percentage points.

“If polls mattered, (former Republican state attorney general) Betty Montgomery would have been elected governor in 2006; and Hillary Clinton would be in her second term as president,’’ said Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. “Polls change. And the more people see of what Kasich is doing as the budget debate continues to unfold, the worse it will be for him.”

On that state budget Kasich put in front of the Republican-controlled legislature last month, a plurality of Ohio voters seem to approve. When asked about his handling of the state budget, 45 percent said they approved and 39 percent said they disapproved.

As is always the case in politics, though, the devil is in the details.

Nearly half – 48 percent - said they approve of Kasich’s plan to expand the Medicaid program – a key component of Obamacare.

Ohioans, though, are not so crazy in love with his idea of reducing income taxes by applying the sales tax to a host of goods and services  -everything from getting a haircut to buying a ticket to the county fair. When asked about that proposal, 51 percent said it was a “bad idea,” while 41 percent said they liked it.

There’s that magic number 50 again.

They do like Kasich’s idea of a new tax on companies drilling for natural gas and oil in Ohio – 58 percent favor the idea, while 32 percent oppose it.

One potential soft spot for Kasich in the Quinnipiac poll has to do not with job approval, but whether he deserves re-election.

When asked if Kasich has earned a second term, 46 percent say he has while 36 percent say he hasn’t.

Below the magic number.

Asked if they have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Kasich, 48 percent said they did, while 32 percent said they view him unfavorably.

Again, below the magic number.

All of this gives Ohio Democrats reason for hope.

The problem is, at this point, Ohioans don’t really know their potential candidates for governor.

On the favorable/unfavorable question, 17 percent said they don’t know enough about Kasich to form an opinion.

Here are the “don’t know enough” numbers for the Democrats:

Cordray, 62 percent. FitzGerald, 80 percent. Ryan, 72 percent. Sutton, 69 percent.
No magic in those numbers.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.