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Politics
0000017a-3b40-d913-abfe-bf44a4f90000Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU news team as the politics reporter and columnist in April 2012 , after 30 years of covering local, state and national politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. On this page, you will find his weekly column, Politically Speaking; the Monday morning political chats with News Director Maryanne Zeleznik and other news coverage by Wilkinson. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio gubernatorial race since 1974, as well as 16 presidential nominating conventions. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots, the Lucasville prison riot in 1993, the Air Canada plane crash at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983, and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. And, given his passion for baseball, you might even find some stories about the Cincinnati Reds here from time to time.

Does Jeb Bush complicate whatever presidential ambitions Kasich has?

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If Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich, swept into a second term with a massive re-election win in November, truly does have presidential ambitions, a very large monkey wrench was thrown into the mix this week.

Jeb Bush – the former Florida governor, son of one president and brother of another – did what GOP political operatives and big-time contributors have been waiting for. He announced – via a Facebook post – that he is exploring the possibility of becoming a candidate for the 2016 GOP nomination.

It changed the picture completely – not just for Kasich, but for the nearly two dozen other Republican politicians who are considering getting in the race.

Bush is a Bigfoot, a Sasquatch in the world of GOP presidential politics. When he made his announcement that he is actively considering a run, you could feel the air suck out of the room for a lot of the long-shot candidates, particularly those who come from the mainstream of the Republican Party.

Earlier this month, another Ohio Republican, Sen. Rob Portman, announced he would not run for the presidency and run for re-election to the Senate in 2016. Portman is very close to the Bush family – he worked in the administration of President George H.W. Bush and was trade representative and budget director in President George W. Bush’s administration.

There is no way that Portman would have run against a Bush for the GOP nomination. First of all, they draw much of their campaign money from the same sources. Secondly, there is Portman’s loyalty to the Bush family. Did Portman have an inkling that his Jeb Bush announcement was coming? We don’t know.

This is not to say that if Bush gets in the race, he is a lock to win. Far from it. There may be some Bush fatigue from GOP primary voters – there has been a Bush in either the number one or number two spot on the GOP ticket in six of the last eight presidential elections.

But the Bush name is still magic among the big GOP donors and fundraisers; and he could make it hard for some of the mainstream candidates to find the kind of campaign money it would take to make it through a long and grueling primary and caucus season.

And that includes Kasich.

Now, understand this: Kasich has said nothing definitive about running for president in 2016, although he drops hints from time to time. But Republicans here in Ohio and elsewhere have little doubt that he has presidential ambitions.

After all, he ran a brief and ill-fated campaign for the GOP nomination in 2000 when he was a congressman from central Ohio and House Budget chairman. In that race, it was a Bush – George W., that is – who sucked all the air out of the room with his prodigious fundraising ability.

Lately, Kasich has been lining up visits to states around the country to urging support for a federal balanced budget amendment – although, so far at least, he has avoided the early primary and caucus states. That could change very quickly, though, after Kasich is sworn into his second term as governor next month.

Ohio is going to be, once again, a key battleground state in the fight for the GOP nomination. And, in July 2016, Ohio will host the GOP nominating convention in Cleveland.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, publishes a weekly column called “Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” which monitors federal elections and is closely watched by political insiders.

This week, Sabato’s analysis of where the battle for the GOP nomination stands mentioned Kasich prominently.

“Gov. John Kasich is dropping hints and crusading for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, although there is little time to be coy,’’ the Crystal Ball said. “Most of the talented staff and generous donors will be snapped up quickly.”

Sabato’s Crystal ranks potential candidates for the nomination by tiers. Even with Bush’s announcement, Sabato said there is no one in the top tier; the situation is still too chaotic.

But Bush was at the top of the second tier, followed by Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Kasich made it into the Crystal Ball’s fourth tier, under “establishment alternatives,’’ along with Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee; and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, told WVXU that if Bush gets in the race, it complicates things for Kasich.

“In order to win the nomination, Kasich probably needs to appeal to the establishment mainstream of the party, which is the same audience Bush needs,’’ Kondik said. “Bush has more cache with that group. Bush’s entry could keep a number of similar candidates from entering the race, a list that includes Kasich.”

Another factor, Kondik said, is that “so many wealthy Republicans are used to and comfortable with giving to the Bushes. With Bush in the field, the potential pool of money dries up for others, including Kasich.”

Kasich is not a candidate for anything at this point. He’s busy preparing for a second term as governor, with a lot on his plate.

But you can bet that he will be keeping one eye open for Jeb Bush and his “exploration.”