One election season ends, another begins.
Riding high the day after President Barack Obama’s re-election last week, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern sharpened his rhetorical knives for 2014. Yes, 2014.
That’s when Republican Gov. John Kasich will be up for a second term. For months the state’s political observers have buzzed with speculation about which Democrats might challenge him.
With the presidential race in the books, expect to hear even more chatter in the coming weeks. Former Gov. Ted Strickland, whom Kasich ousted in 2010, soon will make his intentions known. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald also hopes to announce a decision by year’s end.
Others in the mix include former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of the Youngstown area and recently defeated U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Copley Township.
So it was little surprise to hear Redfern, in a post-election victory lap, slam Kasich’s leadership as "corrosive." He also said his party is in strong position for 2014, regardless of its nominee.
"Without a name attached, Democrats are just one point behind," Redfern said.
Redfern based the statement on numbers provided by Public Policy Polling, or PPP, a firm affiliated with Democrats. Eager for some insight on the nascent gubernatorial race, PolitiFact Ohio decided to explore the party chairman’s claim by looking at those numbers and others.
To better understand where Kasich stands today, consider where he was a year ago this month.
Voters had overwhelmingly rejected Senate Bill 5, a package of collective bargaining restrictions championed by Republican leaders in Columbus. A PPP poll had measured Kasich’s job approval rating at 33 percent. The polling firm also had found that, if given a mulligan on the 2010 election, Ohio voters would have backed Strickland over Kasich, 55 percent to 37 percent.
Bottom line: Kasich spent his first year in office as one of the nation’s most unpopular governors. But after the calendar flipped to 2012, Kasich’s popularity slowly began to climb. Pundits generally tie his rising political fortunes to voter confidence in Ohio’s rising economic fortunes.
In June, PPP pegged Kasich’s approval rating at 40 percent. The pollsters also asked voters about hypothetical matchupsbetween Kasich and several Democrats. The results showed the incumbent in statistical dead heats with Strickland and Cordray and with more comfortable leads over Ryan, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich.
Considering Kasich’s results against Strickland and Cordray, PPP declared him "already in trouble." As for Coleman and Kucinich, there have been no rumblings about either, though Coleman briefly ran six years ago and the redistricted Kucinich will be out of Congress next year.
More recently, other organizations have shown Kasich’s approval rating near or above 50 percent. Late last month Kasich scored a 56 percent in The Plain Dealer/Ohio Newspaper Poll and a 49 percent in a survey by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Conn.
PPP last checked in on Kasich for a pre-Election Day survey -- the poll that Redfern referenced. Of the 1,000 likely Ohio voters questioned, 45 percent approved of Kasich’s job performance. Forty percent disapproved while another 15 percent responded that they were not sure.
Unlike the June survey, in which voters were asked about potential Democratic rivals by name, this latest PPP poll generically framed the question regarding Kasich’s prospects.
Respondents were asked: "Generally speaking, if there was an election for governor today, would you vote for Republican John Kasich or his Democratic opponent?" Forty-four percent picked Kasich, 43 percent chose the Democrat. The remaining 13 percent were not sure.
The poll had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. Incidentally, the same poll had Obama leading in Ohio by 5 points; according to unofficial election results, he beat Mitt Romney by 2.
It is undeniable that Kasich’s popularity has risen since his rocky first year. It also is worth noting that while a PPP poll one year ago showed Strickland thrashing Kasich in a rematch, the governor has rebounded to the point where he’s essentially tied with a nameless challenger.
In other words, when it comes to this race, Democrats are not trending upward. Redfern never asserted otherwise. Rather, the state party chairman accurately explained where things stood: A polling firm, which he clearly cited, showed a generic Democrat trailing Kasich by 1 point.
A lot can change between now and November 2014. But polls, especially one this far out, should be looked at as a snapshot in time.
So on the Truth-O-Meter, Redfern’s statement rates True.
One election season ends, another begins.