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Government and Politics

Ohio's tea party convention draws a sellout crowd
The statewide meeting of tea party groups spent the weekend discussing religion in politics, a federal balanced budget, Medicaid expansion and next year’s statewide ballot

Karen Kasler
Tom Zawistowski, Portage County Tea Party executive director, says conservatives aren't wild about Kasich, but know the odds.
Courtesy of KAREN KASLER
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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 as Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, they also are being told they have a lot of work to do.
LISTEN: Ohio tea partiers look at the odds

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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 Ohio Board of Education, offered some perspective on the statewide races. 

Dismissing the chances of Nina Turner
“Even Democrats quietly say we don’t have a candidate yet,” Williams said of the race for governor. He also spoke about the auditor's race, where incumbent Republican Dave Yost is 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,” Williams said.
And when it comes to the contest pitting current Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted against Democratic state Sen. Nina Turner, Williams is not expecting a tight race.  “I think this race has the potential to be the most lopsided," Williams said.

'Bite-sized' races
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,” Williams said.

One of the tea party leaders, Chris Littleton, said the data shows that local primaries are winnable by a few thousand votes. 

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

The executive director of the Portage County Tea Party, Tom Zawistowki, disputed reports that activists are having trouble finding candidates to run in those races.

John Kasich is no favorite son
Perhaps the most interesting prediction for 2014 – and the most visible evidence of a split between Tea Partiers and Republicans – came when Zawistowski asked the crowd about supporting Ohio's current governor.

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

That one was Republican Repr. John Becker of Cincinnati, one of a handful of state 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. 

”Does that worry you at all?” OPR's Karen Kasler asked 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?" Becker said. "Well, I’ve done it before, and I did it again today.”

Zawistowski says though the tea party is angry with Kasich over his support for Medicaid expansion and overall state spending, it doesn’t have the millions needed to put up a candidate against Kasich in the GOP primary, nor against and Democratic contender Ed FitzGerald. But he says activists are looking at Libertarian Charlie Earl. 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.

(Click image for larger view.)

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