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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.

Kasich, Paul find there are always bumps on the road to the Presidency


So, how about the Tristate’s two potential Republican presidential candidates, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ohio governor John Kasich? What kind of week did -they have, you ask?

Well, not so great. At least as it relates to whatever presidential ambitions they have.

Kasich was the victim of polls in key states that show pretty clearly that, as a potential candidate, he ranks at or near the bottom of the list among GOP voters in some important battleground states; and doesn’t exactly set the world on fire among Ohio Republican voters either.

Paul, for his part, spent the week trying to climb out of a hole he dug for himself when he went on a national cable network and suggested that vaccinations for kids might be a bad idea.

Let’s deal with the junior senator from Kentucky first.

In the middle of a brewing national debate about vaccinations for children, Paul – who is a doctor, an ophthalmologist – went on CNBC and said this:

“I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,’’ Paul said.

And there was this:

“The state doesn’t own your children,’’ Paul said. “Parents own the children. And it is an issue of freedom and public health.”

Not particularly surprising from a politician who comes from a libertarian background, but it set off a wildfire among fellow Republicans, including some who want to be president, and in the media.

Paul, in the face of the reaction, did some back-tracking saying “I did not say vaccines caused disorders, just that they were temporally related.”

And he went on Twitter and tweeted out a photo of himself receiving a vaccination.

Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, publishes a weekly newsletter  “Sabato’s Crystal Ball,’’ which analyzes and handicaps races for the presidency, governors’ offices and Congress. It is closely watched by those in politics on both sides.

After the flap Paul started over vaccinations, Sabato’s Crystal Ball downgraded Paul from the second tier of potential GOP candidates to the third tier, entitled “The Outsiders.” Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker are the only two in the first tier of candidates.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, said the vaccination flap was a part of the Paul downgrade, but not the only reason.

Paul, Kondik said, falls into a category of more conservative, populist potential candidates that includes Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

If all of them got into the race for the GOP nomination, that would be a crowded field trying to appeal to the same ultra-conservative Republican primary voters.

“They all share this outsider label; and are very vocal in their conservative beliefs,’’ Kondik said. “It’s so hard to win a nomination when you are not the favorite of party leaders, and Paul certainly is not. And it gets even harder when you are competing for votes with others who are not party favorites.”

The vaccination flap, Kondik said, may not do permanent damage to Paul, “but it is one more thing that party leaders can point to to say he’s not electable and doesn’t represent the mainstream of the party.”

While Paul was busy explaining himself on the subject of vaccinations for children, Kasich – who may or may not be planning a run for the GOP nomination, depending on who you talk to – was staring at some pretty dismal poll numbers.

First, there was the independent Quinnipiac University Poll of registered GOP voters in three key swing states – Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

While Kasich had a robust 74 percent approval rating among Ohio Republicans polled, he was the first choice for the GOP nomination of only 14 percent of the Ohio Republicans. That was enough to put him on top of a very muddled field of a dozen potential candidates, it was only three percentage points more than Walker. Only two others reached 10 percent – Bush and Paul.

And, among Florida and Pennsylvania GOP voters, Kasich was a non-factor. He didn’t get enough support in the Sunshine State to reach even one percent; and, in his native state of Pennsylvania, he had only three percent support.

Then, on Thursday, the WMUR Granite State Poll came out, which feels the pulse of voters in New Hampshire, the state which will hold the first-in-the-nation presidential primary about a year from now.

Bush topped that poll with 17 percent support from New Hampshire’s GOP voters, with Walker being the only other potential GOP contender to reach double digits with 12 percent support. Only one percent said Kasich was their choice for the GOP nomination.

Kondik said Kasich’s poll numbers aren’t particularly surprising in that he hasn’t done much to signal that he will be a candidate for the nomination.

“Part of his problem is that he doesn’t seem to be the first choice of anyone,” Kondik said.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball puts Kasich at the top of the fourth tier of candidates, “the Governor Alternatives,” followed by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, former Texas governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

Kasich, the Crystal Ball says, “could be (a) fallback for GOP establishment forces,” should candidates like Bush and Walker falter.

Kondik said Kasich, if he gets in, would probably have a better shot at the nomination than Paul, because Kasich fits more into the mainstream of the party – which is where most GOP presidential nominees come from.

But time’s a-wasting.

“This race is starting very quickly,’’ Kondik said. “When Jeb Bush made it clear in mid-December that he was interested, the race was on. I would think Kasich would have to make a move soon, if he wants it.”

The long and short of it is this – if you are a Republican and you want to run for president in 2016, you had better get on board before the train pulls out of the station.