Photo Caption: John Kasich speaks at Athens County GOP campaign headquarters.
The main purpose of the visit, clearly, was to fire up the foot soldiers - including many Ohio University College Republicans - for the last two weeks of the closely watched campaign. As befits such an occasion, Kasich's remarks were informal and jocular; a little thin on issue specifics, but firmly packed with the need to keep America a land of opportunity, by shunning high taxes, wasteful government spending and onerous regulation.
To be successful and live the life you choose, he told the student-heavy crowd, "you have to really push, push, push, shove, shove, shove... We want a country where pushing and shoving works out. We don't want to have a country where you've got to know somebody."
As Kasich, a former congressman, warmed up to speak inside the party HQ on West Union Street, a few demonstrators across the way brandished Strickland/Brown signs. One of them, Meigs County resident Henry Levine, loudly heckled the candidate, portraying the former Lehman Brothers investment banker as a stooge of finance capital.
("I'm afraid that if John Kasich gets in there, he's going to rob the coffers," Levine explained afterwards. "The Republicans have been doing that since the savings & loans, since Lehman Brothers, since Enron.")
"What's going on out there?" Kasich asked, hearing the commotion.
"You made a lot of money, and they don't like it," a member of the supportive crowd inside explained sarcastically.
"Man, I went to college in the '70s, and I know protest," joked the candidate. "This is weak!"
Introducing Kasich, his running mate, Ohio Auditor of State Mary Taylor, said the polling numbers look good for the GOP state ticket, and "quite frankly, I think we're going to get a few crossover Democrat voters as well."
Guessing that the students in the group probably all want good jobs when they graduate, Taylor warned, "Quite frankly, four more years of Ted Strickland, and I'm not going to give you any hope or prospect of a good job here (in Ohio)."
Noting the mini-protest across the street, Taylor predicted that if she and Kasich are elected, and begin their promised "reforms" of state government, they may need to call on the party faithful for some support demonstrations in Columbus, to counter those who will march in opposition.
"There are going to be some people that want to stand in the way of the change that is necessary," she warned. (Asked later who this might include, Kasich replied, "I don't want to presume who's going to show up and fight the program. I have a sneaking suspicion. Let's wait and see.")
Apparently gearing his remarks to students, Kasich explained the frustrations of excessive regulation with a classroom analogy, comparing it to when "some knucklehead tells you you're closed out of your class," because you signed up late. "What if some knucklehead came in and started hassling you so you couldn't run your business?" he asked.
By loosening Big Government's oppressive grip on the private sector, he suggested, we can keep the United States an "opportunity society," in which people can run their own businesses rather than work for a boss.
"Which do you think would be better?" he asked. "Working for somebody else, or having somebody else working for you?"
Along the way, Kasich slammed incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland for negative campaigning. Throughout the campaign, he alleged, "my opponent has not had one good thing to say about himself. It's all been smears."
He also promised that if elected, "we're going to get the lobbyists' snouts out of the trough. No rotten deals anymore." On the subject of school funding, a major plank of the Democrats, Kasich suggested "the schools have got to learn to be more efficient."
In answering a few questions for reporters after his remarks, Kasich insisted the projected $8 billion hole in the next two-year state budget isn't the biggest issue in the campaign. (The state is constitutionally required to balance the budget.)
"What's driving this election for me is, we've lost 400,000 jobs," he said. "We have to fix the (economic) environment here, so we can create jobs." He said in his view, Ohioans aren't so much concerned about the budget deficit, as "they're concerned that government spends too much, taxes them too much, and regulates too much."
Asked how much of the shortfall he can realistically expect to make up with spending cuts, Kasich replied, "it's not about cutting. It's about reforming."
The audience responded enthusiastically to Kasich, and campaign spokesman Scott Milburn said GOP excitement is running high all over the state, even in Democrat strongholds, putting into play races the Dems may have thought safe, like that of 6th District U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson.
"It's just the year," Milburn suggested. "It's just the perfect storm coming together... We could pick up four or five seats in this state, which is insane."
The enthusiasm has trickled down to the college level, even in deep-blue Athens, he noted. "Did you ever think you'd see this level of intensity from OUCRs?" he asked.
ONE OU COLLEGE REPUBLICAN agreed wholeheartedly. Trenton Chaney is a student at Purdue University, taking a few classes at OU while he helps his mother start a business here. Chaney was one of the College Republicans who won a prize - a copy of Kasich's book, "Every Other Monday" - for making a top number of campaign phone calls.
Asked about Kasich's appearance, Chaney said, "It was awesome! I'm a very driven person; I know what I want from life. And Mr. Kasich's comments really backed up my ideas. So it's nice to know I'm voting for the right person."
In response to Kasich's remarks in Athens, Lily Adams, Strickland's deputy press secretary, said in an e-mail that Strickland "has always fought to create jobs and support the hardworking people of southeast Ohio. While Congressman Kasich has a record of supporting policies that outsource Ohio jobs and benefit Wall Street at the expense of Ohioans, Ted has represented the middle class and helped grow Ohio jobs from the bottom up."