Mini Political Junkie: The Ohio Governors' Race

With just over a week before the 2010 midterms, Ken Rudin can't wait for Wednesday to talk politics. Gov. Ted Strickland talks about the race for the Ohio Statehouse. His republican challenger, former congressman John Kasich, was scheduled to join the conversation, but later declined.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Usually, at this time, we turn to the Opinion Page. But with only eight days left until the midterm elections, it doesn't seem fair to wait till Wednesday to talk with Political Junkie Ken Rudin. It's Monday, and time for an eensy-weensy edition of the Political Junkie. In midterm elections, it may seem like the House and Senate races get all the attention today. And while we hope to talk...

(Soundbite of coughing)

CONAN: ...with two candidates from one of the hottest governors races in the country, in Ohio, where incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland faces a challenge from former Congressman John Kasich, a Republican, and Governor Strickland has agreed to talk to us. Congressman Kasich canceled about 10 minutes ago because he did not want to take questions from callers. And so where - we tried to - made an invitation to both. In fact, both accepted. Again, 10 minutes ago, John Kasich canceled.

Political Junkie Ken Rudin is with us here in Studio 3A. And amazingly, he looks just the same on Mondays.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KEN RUDIN: Yes, but stunned, basically, about the Kasich decision. And, again, you know, as all of us feel, we'd rather have both candidates. And both candidates were scheduled, and both candidates agreed to this format until 10 minutes ago, as you said, John Kasich said no. So we will continue the story on the Ohio gubernatorial race.

CONAN: And we want to hear from listeners in Ohio this hour in a state that has faced stunning job losses. Democrats, Republicans, independents, what do you need to hear from the candidates on jobs? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Ken, can you, well, define this race for us?

RUDIN: Well, there are - basically, there are two Ohios. There was an Ohio of 2006, when there was, first of all, 16 years - 16 consecutive years of Republican rule. There were Republican scandals. Governor Bob Taft was part of a scandal. There were a lot of scandals going on. And the Republicans, even though they're the party of low taxes, have raised and raised taxes. Voters were tired. Ted Strickland won a landslide election that year - the first Democrat, as I say, in 16 years. He beat Kenneth Blackwell, secretary of state.

And then two years later, Ohio went for President Obama, which was also a surprise because usually, Ohio seems to be leaning Republican in presidential races. But I guess the scandal helped Obama win the state.

CONAN: And the state legislature had long been in Republican hands, too. A lot of people identified that as part of the problem.

RUDIN: But they kept - but the Republicans kept control of the state legislature, but they lost almost every statewide office. It was really a major upheaval. They lost a Senate seat. Mike DeWine lost to Sherrod Brown, and so forth.

Now - so we have Strickland getting elected in 2006. Now it's a different Ohio in 2010. There's an $8 billion deficit. Four hundred thousand jobs have been lost in Ohio since Governor Strickland took office. There's 10 percent unemployment. And, basically, the story of the election is: Who do you blame? Whom do you blame? Do you blame Strickland and the Democrats? Do you blame the Bush administration -which, basically, the economy started turning sour. And so that was the - that's basically the lineup between Strickland and John Kasich.

Now, Kasich had been the chairman of the House Budget Committee. He made a brief bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, back then. And, of course, since he left Congress - he left Congress after 2000 - he became - he joined Lehman Brothers. And that is one of the major arguments against - according to the Democrats, one of the major arguments against Kasich's candidacy, that he was part of the problem with Lehman Brothers. So that's, basically, how Kasich versus Strickland pairs up.

CONAN: And how has it been running in the polls? Strickland was trailing for quite some time.

RUDIN: He was trailing for the longest time. Kasich - even though in our scorecard, the NPR scorecard, we still had it as a tossup, but Kasich always had a lead in the high single digits. Now, this was interesting. It looked like that Strickland was closing the gap. When President Obama came to Ohio shortly after we were there...

CONAN: Uh-huh.

RUDIN: Coincidence? I think not. It was interesting that a new poll right after that showed Kasich taking off among independents, as if the Obama visit backfired. But, again, it's very, very close. There was one poll that shows Strickland ahead. Both polls show Kasich ahead, but, again, by single digits.

CONAN: And, again, we invited both candidates. They both accepted. Ten minutes before this broadcast, Congressman Kasich's office called up and said he would not appear because he did not want to take calls, though that has been made clear in every communication that that's it's the TALK OF THE NATION. He can tune in any day and know we take calls.

In any case, Governor Strickland is on the line with us. And Governor Strickland, nice to have you with us today.

Governor TED STRICKLAND (Democrat, Ohio): Well, it's great to be with you. And I'm more than willing to take calls.

CONAN: And you're with us from Elyria, Ohio. Am I pronouncing that correctly?

Gov. STRICKLAND: Elyria, yes.

CONAN: Okay. And what...

Gov. STRICKLAND: You pronounced it correctly.

CONAN: And what are you doing there today?

Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, I am visiting one of the 100 or so centers across our state where we have numbers of volunteers reaching out to voters, urging them to vote, trying to talk with them about the issues. And basically, this is our ground game. And I think it is the part of our campaign that will move me over the finish line and help me win this election.

CONAN: And what do you say to people who say, governor, when you took office, things were better? They've gotten worse since you've been in office.

Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, I say to them, you know, the country has suffered a very severe recession. Four hundred thousand jobs or so have been lost in Ohio, but about eight and a half million jobs have been lost in America. And that this recession was not caused by me, the governor. It was not caused by Ohio. It was caused by eight years of mismanagement by the Bush-Cheney administration, and by the shenanigans that have taken place on Wall Street led by the Lehman Brothers, my opponent's former company that went bankrupt, costing Ohio pensions about $480 million.

And I point out to them that the very year that Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, my opponent, who wants to be the governor of Ohio, walked away with a $400,000 bonus. And I think that's relevant information because I think it indicates a difference between what I call Wall Street values and Ohio values.

CONAN: You are the Democratic governor of the state of Ohio, a critical state around the nation, but also the Democrats are in charge in Washington, D.C. They control both Houses of Congress and, of course, the White House as well. Why should voters in Ohio trust Democrats this time around?

Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, because Democrats, at the federal level as well here in the state of Ohio, have acted responsibly in managing this recession. As I said before, that was not of our own making. Millions of jobs were lost nationally before President Obama took the oath of office. I think 750,000 jobs were lost the month he took of oath of office. The economy was in a freefall. Ohio and every other state were suffering as a result of this deepening recession. But the freefall within the economy has been stopped. Actions were taken by the president and our Democratic friends in Congress that saved the American auto industry.

And today, there are thousands of people working in the auto industry and in the supply chain as a result of the president's leadership. And I could go on and on and talk about other sectors of the economy...

CONAN: And I bet you have.

Gov. STRICKLAND: ...that today are seeing jobs created as a result of Democratic leadership.

CONAN: Ken?

RUDIN: Governor Strickland, if this is President Bush's fault, and if it's the Republican's fault, and it's not your fault, why do polls show the Democrats in such big trouble going into Tuesday's elections? And why has John Kasich had a lead in most polls, not every poll, over you for most of the campaign if it was not your fault?

Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, because when there is a crisis, especially an economic recession like we've experienced, people tend to blame those who are currently in office. But I can tell you that I believe I'm going to win this election. Our internal polling shows that I am in the lead. And I feel very confident that there is no enthusiasm gap in Ohio. I can you know, I cannot speak to what's happening in other states. But this election is very tight. You know, I tell people quite honestly that I think John Kasich won this race in August. But I'm going to win it November when it really counts.

CONAN: Well...

Gov. STRICKLAND: And as people have started paying attention, I think they have come to understand what's at stake here and what the issues are. And they understand that the Democrats have worked to build us bring us out of this recession.

And the reason Wall Street is relevant in this election is because my opponent, and I think other Republicans nationally, want to bring back the same kind of policies that led us into this recession. And that's why it's relevant to talk about the recent past.

CONAN: Again, Congressman Kasich was invited, accepted, declined to appear 10 minutes before the broadcast when he found out we were going to be taking questions from callers. Let's get to some of those callers now for Governor Strickland. Let's go to Sam, and Sam is with us from Bowling Green in Ohio.

SAM (Caller): Hi, governor.

Gov. STRICKLAND: Pleasure, Sam.

SAM: Thanks for taking questions today.

Gov. STRICKLAND: Absolutely, Sam. What's on your mind today?

SAM: Well, I'm I live up here in northwest Ohio, but I grew up in Cleveland where my dad was an autoworker for Ford for 40 years. And he was - just recently took early retirement. And I just watched the plant growing up there all these years go from a huge 6,000-person plant to when he was finally leaving to 1,000-person plant. And they're still making great cars there. They still buy Ford. You know, the plant is still operating. A lot of people are employed, but it's far smaller than it ever was. And I just see a lot of that happening all over Ohio.

There's a lot of manufacturing that's never coming back, whether it's Ohio Art or Rubbermaid. So I wonder what the new kind of economy - we are a manufacturing base here. What are we going to be building? What are we going to be doing for jobs of the 21st century? Is it building trains? Is it building windmills? Is it building solar panels? What is it?

Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, I think it's going to be all of those things, Sam. And by the way, even the auto industry, I think, is surviving and starting to thrive in Ohio. And as I said earlier, you know, during the days - the darkest days of the auto crisis, I had officials from Honda -you know, Honda manufactures vehicles and engines in Marysville, Ohio. It's not a unionized plant. But on a weekend, some officials from Honda called and said, governor, can we come and see you?

And they came to the governor's residence late on a Sunday evening and they said, we don't normally advocate for our competitors. But, governor, we're here urging you to do everything you can to see that the federal government helps the Big Three because our supply chain is shared. About 80 percent of our suppliers supply the Big Three. And they said, this supply chain is so fragile and we're afraid if something happens to one of the Big Three, the supply chain could collapse.

That's just an example of the interconnections that take place within our economy and especially within the manufacturing sector of our economy. But, Sam, you nailed it when you talked about building wind turbines, solar panels and the like. Ohio - I was able to announce week before last that Ohio will have built in our state the largest solar farm east of the Rocky Mountains. Five hundred acres will be covered with solar panels. Two Spanish companies have agreed to come to Ohio to employ Ohio workers to build those solar panels and the mechanisms to hold them in place. That's going to create about 600 jobs.

Ohio is also going to be the first state in North America to see the deployment of wind out in the fresh waters of Lake Erie. Some of those turbines have already been ordered. And when I became governor, we only had four sizeable wind turbines in our state. And we have already now permitted the building and installation of 500 additional wind turbines. And these are just beginning initiatives.

CONAN: Sam...

Gov. STRICKLAND: Ohio is a big manufacturing state. We will always be a manufacturing state. But I believe that going forward, manufacturing for energy needs will be the dominant kind of manufacturing that we see happen in Ohio.

CONAN: Sam, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

SAM: Thank you very much.

CONAN: We're talking with...

Gov. STRICKLAND: Thanks, Sam.

CONAN: ...Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go next to Earl(ph). And Earl is calling from Cleveland.

EARL (Caller): Yeah. Thanks for taking my call, Neal. And your guest there, right, is it Ken Grudin(ph)?

CONAN: Ken Rudin.

EARL: Rudin, okay. One of the things I wanted to point out before my question to Governor Strickland is the fact that, you know, here in Ohio, especially in northeastern Ohio, one particular county, Cuyahoga County, we have a lot of corruption. And when I heard that the other guest...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

EARL: ...did not want to appear because of fear of questions - and it goes back to the fact that there were quite a bit of losses in the pension funds here. And our Governor Strickland also knows about the corruption in our county here in - that Cleveland is a part of. But my question to Governor Strickland would be, what are some of the things that can be done to recover some of those pension losses, which currently does affect many hundreds of thousands of current retirees and future retirees?

CONAN: And the promises the state has made to its employees as well.

EARL: Exactly.

CONAN: Governor Strickland?

Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, Earl, thank you for the question. And I would just, you know, I would just point out before I give a fuller answer here that soon after Lehman Brothers collapsed, Ohio public pensions lost about $480 million as a result of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. And that has, you know, that's hurt our public pension systems dramatically.

CONAN: But there are structural problems not just in Ohio but in a lot states.

Gov. STRICKLAND: Of course there are. But I can tell you that Ohio's public pension systems are in better condition than are the public pension systems in many, many other states. I believe in New Jersey, you know, there's a real crisis up there with the state withholding paying into the pension systems. So we, you know, we've got challenges here, but I believe our public pensions are more sound than certainly would be the case in many, many other states.

But let me say this in answer to Earl's questions. We've got an attorney general, Richard Cordray, who was recently featured in a large article in The New York Times regarding his success in going after some of these firms that have acted badly and resulted in significant loss to Ohio and to other Americans across, you know, the entire nation. And hundreds of millions of dollars have been recouped and recovered as a result of Attorney General Rich Cordray's actions. And so, some of those legal steps that are available to our attorney general are, in fact, being taken and with some very positive results.

CONAN: Governor Strickland...

Gov. STRICKLAND: Unfortunately, all of the loss cannot be recouped.

CONAN: Governor Strickland, thanks very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Gov. STRICKLAND: Well, I thank you for having me. Thank you, Earl, for calling.

CONAN: Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. Ken Rudin, thanks to him as well. He'll be joining us as usual on Wednesday, if not before then. If you can't wait till then, you can always find his blog, podcast and election scorecard at npr.org/junkie. And this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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