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Major Backlash at Right-Wing Ohio Governor Has Him Scrambling for 'Compromise' With Progressives

Recall victories in Wisconsin and plummeting approval ratings have John Kasich scared--and now he wants to make a deal with labor and progressive groups.

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“I don't think there's a base of support” for SB5, he said. “When we were doing hearings, there were rumors that the Tea Party was going to come out en masse to support this bill, but you'd get seven people in funny hats.”

Outside money is expected to pour into Ohio ahead of the vote, as it did in Wisconsin, but its impact isn't being felt quite yet. There are several reasons why a referendum might work out very differently than the recall elections. The referendum will overturn SB5, but Kasich and his cronies will still be in power—Ohio doesn't allow for similar recalls, and Foley noted that there are few important positions up for a vote in November 2011.

But the referendum is statewide, and support for repeal is too—the petition contained verified signatures from all 88 counties. Rather than trying to beat Republicans in red districts (all of the state senators in Wisconsin who were eligible for recall in 2011 had been elected before the Republican sweep of 2010, meaning that most of them were able to hold their seats in 2008 when Obama and Democrats had a wave of success), the ballot measure may be a better test of where public opinion in Ohio is in 2011. Also, the out-of-state cash in Wisconsin came from disparate groups that have little involvement in the organized labor fight, but wanted to keep their conservative buddies in power for other reasons. Right-wing “school choice” organizations and anti-abortion groups are unlikely to dump cash into the SB5 fight, and Foley noted that business support for the measure, though stated, is unenthusiastic at best.

A group calling itself Building a Better Ohio has created a 501(c)4 organization that doesn't have to disclose where it gets its money as it buys ads and influence in favor of SB5. Its spokesman claims he'll voluntarily disclose the information before the deadline for pre-election filings, but there's no law requiring him to do so.

One Kasich supporter who is well-known is Rupert Murdoch; before he took office, Kasich had a weekend show on Fox News, "From the Heartland," and he's been a frequent guest on the network as a candidate and as governor. Additionally, Murdoch personally donated $10,000 to Kasich's campaign, and Murdoch's News Corp donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association for ads supporting his election. Since Murdoch's recent descent into scandal, Ohio Democrats have called on Kasich to donate Murdoch's money to charity. 

We Are Ohio raised $7 million for the fight, lots from national labor unions—AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union, Communication Workers of America and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees all chipped in plenty. But the group says 80 percent of its money comes from small donors—like $10 from the Fremont Sisters of Mercy.

Rumors are flying that Kasich is being asked for money back by some of his big donors. We weren't able to confirm this, but he is being out-fundraised by the attorney general from his own party, who's already got $1.1 million in the bank for a reelection that is a few years away. (Kasich has $230,000.)

Kasich's poll numbers are abysmal—Public Policy Polling has him with only 36 percent approval, worse than any other governor in the country besides Rick Scott in Florida. Foley noted that part of the dive in popularity for these Republican governors is their style. “I think Kasich is a guy who blusters and tries to bully his way through stuff,” he pointed out. “He got punched in the nose by labor and I think he's retracting.”  

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