I hear that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gives really good stump speeches in his quest to win the U.S. Presidency in 2016. In a very crowded GOP field where a candidate only has to have more than 10% support to be considered one of the serious contenders (really? when 2016 is still 5 months away?), Walker appears to be well positioned for the first GOP caucus contest early next year in Iowa. So, what if he wins Iowa? What if he wins nominating contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada? A lot of competitors will have quit after striking out in the first four contests, true. But will those potential wins provide the bump he needs to win the White House? I don’t think so. Though Ohio’s electoral votes seem to decrease with every census, I still do not see how a Republican candidate wins the White House without winning Ohio. I don’t see how Scott Walker can win Ohio in a general election unless the Democrat nominee makes a mammoth (and I mean huge, huge, huge) blunder.
It is conceivable, however unlikely, that Walker could win a GOP primary in Ohio, especially if the GOP field is still crowded. But the field won’t be crowded. With so many candidates at this stage of the race, the double-digit support Walker currently has makes him seem like a Goliath (OK, maybe not compared to Donald Trump or former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, but I think you know what I mean). In my memory, I can never recall a GOP primary ballot in Ohio that listed more than five presidential candidates. Going from double-digit numbers of candidates down to 5 candidates would mean that Scott Walker would have to climb to at least 20% of the vote to win, and 20% would only win if the other candidates were also deadlocked with 20% of the vote yet each tallying one less vote than Scott Walker’s. If there were just 2 candidates Ohio’s GOP primary ballot and one of them were Scott Walker, I seriously doubt he could cross the 50% threshold to win. His best chance to win Ohio’s delegates is for all the other candidates to drop out (and sometimes that happens by the time Ohio votes).
Walker was making national news as governor of Wisconsin at the same time that John Kasich was making national news as governor of Ohio. True, Kasich made national news as a key member of the Congress that balanced the federal budget in the 1990’s, but, for many voters, that is not recent memory. Governors Walker and Kasich were in the national spotlight for the same thing: passing legislation to drastically alter the collective bargaining rights of the public-sector labor unions.
To me, showing real leadership in executive office means toughly negotiating a fair contract. Leadership is needed not only at the state level to get labor contracts that strike the right balance, but also at the local levels of government, too. Voters don’t always elect good leaders, and that’s on them if they didn’t do their homework prior to voting. So, if labor contracts exist that are not in the public’s best interest, then the public needs to recruit good leaders and vote them into office. After the victors take office, they need to remember that taxpayers expect that our government executives negotiate contracts that the public can support.
What Walker and Kasich tried to do was compensate for an overall lack of leadership, at state and local levels, regarding labor contract negotiations. They tried to use the legislation to overturn negotiated contracts. This step, in and of itself, is not only wrong (because it breaks promises), but it weakens the executive branch’s negotiating clout down the road. Negotiating in good faith strengthens one’s clout. Wiping out contracts with legislation shows that one did not negotiate in good faith. Now, what does one do to engender trust when negotiating with the unions if the unions think that you’re just going to turn around and lobby the legislature to undercut what you just agreed to? Walker is insulated from his mistake, for now, because voters in Wisconsin sided with him. Now, he needs to find votes in other states, and, speaking of states, Ohio is not an insignificant one.
I think that the labor unions in Wisconsin mistakenly thought that marketplace principles don’t apply to them, for they must have assumed that they could do a crappy job and get away with it. When I think about how things turned out, I think Walker’s victories must have had more to do with taxpayer discontent with public employee performance than with anything else. The moral to the story for Wisconsin’s public employees is this: Serve the public well. Had that been the case, Wisconsin’s public employees might have succeeded like the public-sector labor unions in Ohio did. Ohio turned out to support its public employees at the ballot box.
In 2011, Ohio voters supported the referendum that killed Senate Bill 5, carrying 83 of Ohio’s 88 counties. In Kasich’s bid for re-election in 2014, he had to assure Ohioans that he had learned his lesson and would not go back down that same path to do an end run around labor contracts via legislation. Lucky for Kasich, he was opposed by Ed Fitzgerald, an ineffective and disgraceful politician from Cuyahoga County, in the 2014 gubernatorial race. Media observers outside Ohio should not read too much into Kasich’s 2014 win because they need to take into account just how pitifully weak a candidate Fitzgerald was. Therefore, Kasich’s ability to win Ohio as a presidential candidate is not a foregone conclusion.
Let’s make something clear: In turning back SB 5 in all but 5 counties (Delaware, Warren, Holmes, Shelby, and Mercer), it would appear that a number of Ohio Republicans thought that the bad-faith legislative end-run around promises made to public employees was a bad move. Democrats, alone, didn’t kill that bill. In a contested GOP primary, assuming Walker is still in the mix, he can only pick up the votes of those who favored the bill, which, as I pointed out, may not provide a winning margin if the number of candidates is dwindling. I don’t know what Walker’s fundraising acumen is, but I suppose he could find well-heeled donors in Delaware and Warren counties to give the illusion that he has some kind of political support in Ohio, but money doesn’t necessarily add up to votes. Though there are other planks in Walker’s platform besides union-busting, many of those same planks exist in the platforms of his competitors. In other words, he is different from the other candidates in that he engaged in union-busting and got away with it. Except, he really won’t get away with it, because the path to the White House leads through Ohio. Kasich, for his part, is apologetic (but he still might not carry Ohio). Walker remains unapologetic. And this brings us to the general election of 2016 (okay, I said the 2016 general election might not even happen if all hell breaks loose).
Do we need to remind everyone that Ohio is a swing state? The Democrats GOTV efforts in Ohio during presidential election years have been full-throttle, to say the least. The Democrats know that no matter how large the magnitude of resources is that’s poured into Ohio, it pays off if they deny the GOP of Ohio’s electors. So though Ohio looks red in between presidential election years, the Democrats painted Ohio blue in 2008 and 2012. History shows us that Republicans do not win the White House without Ohio’s electors. If Scott Walker were the GOP nominee, how does he carry Ohio? The death of SB 5 would suggest that Walker will definitely not max out the Republican vote. What does he offer for Democrats that may cause them to think about crossing over? Nothing.
Walker slashed the unions claiming that it would save the taxpayers some money. Maybe it just re-allocated where money is spent, for Walker plans to help the Milwaukee Bucks NBA team get a new arena with the help of taxpayer money–from new taxes. That’s called corporate welfare. That doesn’t even sell well with the Tea Party. Meanwhile, as a saving grace, Kasich works wonders with budgets without more taxation. Conclusion: Walker’s union-busting is a bust in Ohio. White House access denied.
Kasich, for his part, has a chance, but the Democrat nominee will not be Ed Fitzgerald in November 2016. I think he knows that.