Tea party activist may challenge Kasich for GOP nomination

Challengers have until Feb. 5 to qualify for May primary.

2014 Election coverage

Our local reporters and Columbus and Washington bureaus will have complete coverage of the 2014 elections all year. Ohioans will decide races for governor and statewide offices and may also face several statewide ballot issues this year. Follow us on Twitter at @Ohio_Politics.

Tea party activist Ted Stevenot is expected to announce that he is mounting a Republican primary challenge this year against incumbent Gov. John Kasich, who has angered fiscal conservatives for growing the state budget and embracing expansion of Medicaid.

Stevenot, of Clermont County, will make his formal announcement at a new conference on Tuesday in Columbus. He is also expected to introduce as his running mate Brenda L. Mack, who is past president of the Ohio Black Republicans Association.

“The facts are Ohio isn’t turning around. The facts are the governor hasn’t governed conservatively,” said Tom Zawistowski, head of the Portage County Tea Party and a Stevenot backer. “We are not about symbolic victories. When we play, we play to win.”

Stevenot did not return messages seeking comment. He is past president of the statewide Ohio Liberty Coalition and runs a small insurance company in the Cincinnati area.

Meanwhile, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who is the Ohio Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate for governor, may be facing his own primary challenge from Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune.

Portune said Thursday that he would file his paperwork this week and use the next 30 days to travel the state, raise money and assess his chances.

“The party machine is feeling unhappy with me right now. I’m sorry they feel that way. This is not about breaking up the party. This is about energizing the party where there isn’t much energy right now,” Portune said. He said Democrats in the Cincinnati area are concerned about FitzGerald’s ability to raise money, the strength of his infrastructure and his relationship with the African-American community.

Portune served eight years on the Cincinnati City Council before being elected to the Hamilton County Commission in 2000.

The deadline for making the primary ballot in Ohio is Feb. 5. The primary election is scheduled for May 6.

Republican political consultant Mark Weaver said he doubts either Stevenot or Portune will go through with their primary challenges.

“This is more of a problem for Ed FitzGerald than it is for John Kasich. Here is why: Stevenot is not well known in any major media market in Ohio and Todd Portune is,” Weaver said. “Secondly, right now, these outsider candidates are full of talk. But getting the signatures to file and raising the money to be heard is much harder than talking.”

The most recent Quinnipiac University poll, released Nov. 26, shows Kasich holding a 7-point lead over FitzGerald, down from a 14-point lead in June. The survey also found that Kasich’s job approval rating has climbed 11 points to 52 percent and that FitzGerald is still unknown to 71 percent of registered voters.

Primary challenges to incumbent governors are rare in Ohio. The last time it happened to a Republican governor was 1978 when Charles Kurfess went up against James Rhodes.

Rhodes beat Kurfess by a 2 to 1 margin in the primary that year.

Minor parties will be barred from holding primaries this year under a new law, which is being contested in federal court by the Libertarian Party of Ohio. The GOP-backed law sets new requirements for minor parties to be recognized and to qualify for the statewide ballot.

“I think it’s healthy to have more than one candidate. That’s one of the reasons we want to keep our primary,” said LPO spokesman Aaron Keith Harris, who is running for secretary of state. “If more than one person wants to run for office as a Libertarian, we want the voters to chose. We think that’s healthy.”

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