Trump/Kasich sides in showdown over Ohio GOP chairman

The Ohio GOP delivered big for Republicans in 2016 – Donald Trump sailed to victory in Ohio, Republicans held two seats on the state Supreme Court, the party picked up seats in the General Assembly and incumbent U.S. Sen. Rob Portman was re-elected.

Despite this success, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges is fighting to hang onto his job.

Borges, who is up for re-election on Jan. 6, faces a challenge from Stark County GOP Vice Chairwoman Jane Murphy Timken, an attorney from Canton and a member of a family that has long been a generous GOP donor.


It could shape up to be a proxy battle: Borges has the backing of Ohio Gov. John Kasich while Timken has the backing of Trump.

“I support Matt. He has the support of the committee. He has done an outstanding job running a complex organization and has an unparalleled record of winning. His experience is critical moving into the midterm elections,” the governor has said of Borges.

Timken said in a letter to central committee members: “The relationship between the ORP and the President-elect’s campaign was very publicly divisive. Last week, I spoke with President-elect Trump and he agrees that it is time for a leadership change at the ORP.”


Timken also picked up support from long-time Summit County GOP Chairman Alex Arshinkoff and Summit County GOP Executive Committee Chairman Bryan Williams. Williams fired off an email last week that criticized Borges for failing to fully support Trump for president and for holding an $85,000-a-year job with a liberal-leaning law firm while serving as state party chairman, a job that pays roughly $175,000 a year.

Borges, who said he left the law firm job earlier this month, said he is running for re-election based on his record that includes more Republicans elected to offices in Ohio than any time in the history of the state. “I’m asking the committee to re-elect me for another two-year term. Jane Timken wants the job too. I don’t blame her. It’s a great job,” he said.

Borges or Timken need a majority vote of the 66-members of the state central committee to win election to the 2-year term. Both candidates say they have a majority now.

This is the second time in less than a decade that an Ohio GOP chairman could tumble, even after winning plenty of races.

A brutal internal party fight started in 2011 when Kasich, newly elected as governor, asked the previous chairman Kevin DeWine of Fairborn to step down so Kasich could install his own person. DeWine said no.

Kasich’s team proceeded to stock the 66-member state central committee with allies to unseat DeWine. DeWine stepped down in 2012 and former party chairman Bob Bennett — DeWine’s mentor — took back control for a short stint. Borges was elected in 2013 and re-elected in 2015.

This year, the Ohio Republican Party heavily backed Kasich for president during the primaries this year. Borges repeatedly said the Ohio GOP would back the eventual nominee and it wouldn’t be Trump. In fact, Trump seized the nomination and won the Electoral College vote.


In October, Trump’s Ohio campaign manager Bob Paduchik publicly accused Borges of working to undermine Trump in Ohio and lobbying to become the next Republican National Committee chairman. And in December – after Trump’s presidential campaign victory – it was announced that Paduchik and Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel would be co-chairs of the RNC. (The current RNC chairman Reince Prebius was tapped to be Trump’s White House chief of staff.)

The chairmanship of a state party is practically invisible to the average Ohioans but it indirectly impacts them, said political scientist Christopher Devine of the University of Dayton. The state party plays a role in recruiting and electing candidates to carry out GOP policies.

If Borges retains his job, recruits may tilt toward the Kasich brand of the GOP, Devine said.

“Conversely, if Jane Timken defeats Borges, she may help to rebrand the Ohio Republican Party in a way that reflects Donald Trump’s politics more so than John Kasich’s, given her strong support for Trump this past election cycle,” he said.

Staff writer Lynn Hulsey contributed to this report.

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