GOPer Kasich In Damage Control Mode After Gaffes In OH-GOV Race

The Ohio governor’s race is getting some national attention this week — and that’s not necessarily good for former Rep. John Kasich (R).

A pair of hyperlocal gaffes are creating big problems for Kasich, who is trying to unseat Gov. Ted Strickland (D). First, Kasich said he wouldn’t join with other Ohio pols begging basketball genius (and native son) LeBron James to stay with the Cleveland Cavaliers. And then Kasich’s campaign spokesperson essentially mocked Strickland’s rural roots by suggesting the governor was raised in a “chicken shack.”

Now the Kasich campaign is under attack and national pundits are saying he’s in trouble.Democrats jumped all over Kasich yesterday after his campaign spokesperson Rob Nichols said that Strickland doesn’t know how to manage cities “having grown up in a chicken shack.” (Strickland did spend a brief part of his childhood living in a chicken coop after his family’s house in rural Ohio burned down. He’s mentioned it on the campaign trail before.)

Nichols tried to apologize, but it wasn’t enough for Democrats who saw some blood in the water and weren’t about to let the story go. Eventually Kasich himself had to step in, offering his own down-home method for dealing with the problem.

“I just heard about it last night. I was not happy. I told Rob that. I more or less took him to the woodshed,” Kasich told reporters yesterday.

The Strickland campaign isn’t likely to accept that apology either, having already woven the Nichols line into fundraising material and surrogate speeches.

As for Strickland himself, he does seem to be over it. According to the AP, he “largely brushed aside” the chicken shack comments yesterday.

“You know what I said when I read it?” Strickland told the AP, “I just hope he keeps on talking.”

Strickland would certainly be served if Nichols does as he hopes. The gaffe plays right into Strickland’s strategy of campaigning hard among rural voters, a strategy made all the more easy by Strickland’s recent endorsement from the NRA.

The LeBron James statement, on the other hand, could hurt Kasich with voters in the cities, especially Cleveland, which is desperate not to lose its superstar. And this time, Kasich has no one to blame but himself.

Speaking on Alan Colmes’ radio show last week, Kasich tried to make a point about how serious he was about job creation by refusing to join in the chorus of Ohio notables — including Strickland — who are literally begging James to stay with the Cavs through song.

“I’m not singing in any chorus for LeBron James,” Kasich told Colmes. “No, I’m not. Look, he’s a great basketball player, he’s a great guy. There’s a lot of great people in Ohio.”

Kasich said there are more important things to talk about than James’ basketball career. “[W]e’ve lost 400,000 jobs out here and the last guy I worry about is LeBron James,” Kasich said. (For his part, Strickland says keeping James in Cleveland “is economic development.”)

Democrats seized on the James comments as well, launching a website attacking Kasich as head of “Ohioans Against LeBron James.”

For now, the Kasich camp has dismissed the issue as “frivolous.” But if Kasich continues to get the negative coverage he has so far for the remark, that might change soon.