CLEVELAND — Ohio’s lieutenant governor enters the 2018 race for the state’s top job with the promised backing of Gov. John Kasich.
Whether the endorsement of a leading detractor of President Donald Trump helps or hurts Republican Mary Taylor in her bid to lead the battleground state is unclear.
Taylor on Friday pledged to build on the accomplishments of the Kasich administration — righting the economy, reducing regulations, fighting opioid addiction, cutting taxes — all without mentioning the governor by name.
“Our progress is real, but we are not satisfied. We are scaling the mountain, but we are not yet at the summit. Now is not the time to rest and to wait,” she said at the City Club of Cleveland. “Our state can be even greater. There are magnificent things we can do, stubborn problems we can solve, and individual lives we can help repair.”
Taylor, 51, of Green, is the final high-profile Republican expected to join the race to succeed the term-limited Kasich. The others are Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, of Wadsworth.
Kasich’s backing could prove beneficial to Taylor amid the crowded field. He won Ohio’s Republican presidential primary last year with more votes than Democrats Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders and nearly as many as Trump and Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio combined.
Yet more recent polling has found that Trump’s favorability exceeds Kasich’s among Ohio voters. Some were put off when the Republican governor clashed with Trump last year, refusing to endorse him, appear with him or attend the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where he secured the nomination.
“I’m disappointed,” Jack Boyle, a 68-year-old retired financial adviser, said Friday in Cleveland. “Kasich could have been a better sport about the whole thing. His behavior at the convention was an embarrassment, and once Trump became president, Kasich’s a regular on CNN panels, calling Trump crazy.”
Kasich also has bucked his party in defending the Medicaid expansion made available under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, an expansion Taylor opposes. He has forged alliances nationally in an effort to preserve the program and craft revisions to the law that leaders of his party, including Trump, have vowed to repeal and replace.
“I am an individual, I bring my own life experience, I bring my own professional experience,” Taylor said, in response to a question on her ties to a governor unpopular with conservatives. “I don’t agree with my husband 100 percent of the time. … Look, I haven’t always agreed with this governor, but I respect the man, and I respect the position, and my disagreements with him came behind closed doors.”
Fellow Republicans in the Ohio House stopped short Thursday of overriding a Kasich veto aimed at protecting Medicaid expansion from an enrollment freeze beginning next year, but they successfully overrode 11 other of his line-item budget vetoes. If the Senate also does so, those would be the first budget veto overrides of a same-party governor in 40 years.
Taylor, a former state insurance director, Ohio auditor and state representative, noted Friday that she led the state’s fight against the federal health care law. She acknowledged her biggest challenge, as a member of the administration, will be to communicate to voters how she’s bucked the status quo.
Opponents on both the left and right have seized on her position to criticize Taylor, as well as DeWine and Husted, for being part of the Columbus establishment.
Ohio Democrats drew attention to divisions among Republicans in Ohio and nationally over Medicaid by accusing the three of being “missing in action” on Kasich’s veto.
Renacci also leaped on the issue. He was the only Republican candidate who publicly supported the freeze and opposed the veto.