Ohio Tea Party Convention Shows Split With GOP

The Ohio Tea Party convened in Columbus in preparation for the 2014 statewide elections.(Photo: Karen Kasler/ Ohio Public Radio)
The Ohio Tea Party convened in Columbus in preparation for the 2014 statewide elections.(Photo: Karen Kasler/ Ohio Public Radio)

Tea Party activists are being told they have a lot of opportunity in next year’s elections, as they continue to oppose Republicans on several issues. But they also are being told they have a lot of work to do.

The Tea Party’s annual statewide We The People Convention was a sellout. More than 300 activists gathered in a ballroom at the Columbus Convention Center to talk about religion in politics, the economy, a Constitutional amendment for a federal balanced budget, Medicaid expansion and a preview of next year’s statewide ballot. Former Republican state Rep. Bryan Williams, who’s now on the state Board of Education, offered some perspective on the statewide races – for Governor:

“Even Democrats quietly say we don’t have a candidate yet,” says Williams.

For Auditor, with incumbent Republican Dave Yost being challenged by Rep. John Carney:

“If there is a rising star in the Democratic Party, this is probably who they’re pinning their hopes on,” adds Williams

And the contest pitting current Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted against Democratic state Sen. Nina Turner.

“I think this race has the potential to be the most lopsided,” Williams says.

And former Republican state Rep. Seth Morgan said Tea Party activists are already hoping to field candidates to run against more than a dozen House Republicans, though he won’t name those lawmakers.

“I don’t think it’s wise for us to stand up and say, we’ve got these 15 individuals targeted.”

But Tea Party leader Chris Littleton said the data shows that local primaries are winnable by a few thousand votes.

“Guys, these are bite-sized races. If you guys want to take them on, you can absolutely win these with just a handful of volunteers,” says Littleton.

And the executive director of the Portage County Tea Party, Tom Zawistowki, disputes reports that activists are having trouble finding candidates to run in those races. Perhaps the most interesting prediction for 2014 – and the most visible evidence of a split between Tea Partiers and Republicans – came when Zawistowski asked this of the crowd.

“How many in this room are going to vote for John Kasich for governor? One, two, three. How many in this room are going to work for John Kasich in this coming election? One,” says Zawistowski.

That one was Republican Rep. John Becker of Cincinnati, one of about five lawmakers who stopped by the Tea Party gathering. Becker recently proposed legislation to roll back Medicaid to federal minimums, to expand the number of places where guns can legally be carried and to cut by half the number of days for early voting in Ohio. And he did note that was the lone person who appears to publicly back Kasich.

Kasler: ”Does that worry you at all?”

Becker: “Well, you know, there’s probably more people in this room who’s willing to stand up for Kasich, but who wants to be standing alone in a crowd? Well, I’ve done it before, and I did it again today.”

Zawistowski says though the Tea Party is angry with Kasich over Medicaid expansion and overall state spending, it doesn’t have the millions needed to put up a candidate against Kasich and Democratic contender Ed FitzGerald. But he says activists are looking at Libertarian Charlie Earl. And Zawistowski says if his supporters desert Kasich and FitzGerald is elected, they’re comfortable that the Democrat wouldn’t have enough support in the legislature to make big changes.

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