I had relatively low expectations for the debate.  I tend to think that they’re always draws.  And I think State debates are particularly overanalyzed as, let’s face, most people who watch them are already decided.  What matters more is going to be the fact-checking articles, and the coverage in the morning as more people  will see the debate through them than tonight.  The other is did the debate created any fodder for ads.

Look, you can dismiss my analysis of the debate as a Strickland backer.  So let’s judge it based on what the media said, pre-debate, each campaign needed to do.

The headline shows that Kasich did just that.  In response to a question of his support on a corporate board to ship Ohio manufacturing jobs to China and on his free-trade policies, Kasich uttered what will become infamous words.

John Kasich claimed, in an angry and defensive tone, that Ohio has not lost any jobs to China.  I doubt any Ohioans believe that is true.  Instead, it paints Kasich as a naive ideologue who denies the obvious of the very policies (and in his case, direct actions in the private market) he has undertaken.

This one thing violated the first rule of political debates: First, do no harm.  Kasich’s ridiculous and absurd statement that Ohio has not lost a single job to China, despite his vote to actually move Ohio jobs to China exceeded the pre-debate expectation of the Dispatch which predicted “Kasich, Strickland unlikely to make a major blunder.”

And most experts told the Dispatch that Kasich, in particular, couldn’t avoid a mistake like this:

Dale Butland, a consultant who has helped prepare numerous Democrats for debates, said "a bad mistake would be more damaging to Kasich than it would be to Strickland, because he’s never been governor and there may be people who wonder whether this guy is up to the job."

Green said the debate is a prime-time debut for Kasich: "He has an opportunity to educate people on himself and his policies in a positive way. That’s where a mistake might prove to be very costly. An awful lot of people who tune in know very little about him, so there is a chance to fill that in in a positive way."

Kasich’s incredibly dumb statement elevates the Invacare issue squarely in the race.  By stepping in it, he moves out the debate fighting the rest of the campaign on the outsourcing issue—the Strickland campaign’s chosen field of battle where they clearly have an advantage.

Here’s what Jim Heath at ONN said would be the debate scorecard. 

The keys for Strickland:

  • Shift concern about this bad economy to the collapse of Wall Street.  Tie in Kasich’s role at Lehman Brothers.
  • Remind Ohio voters that it was Republicans, and former president George W Bush, who created the job losses.
  • Suggest John Kasich offers risky ideas, like eliminating the state income tax that could result in further cuts to services like education.
  • Appear rested and in charge, a tired appearance could turn attention away from issues.

The keys for Kasich:

  • Bring every question back to jobs, jobs, jobs. Point out that 400,000 jobs have been lost in the last four years.
  • Ask Ohioans if they are better off than they were four years ago.
  • Blame President Obama and Democrats in Congress for current economic conditions.
  • No gaffes.  No ideas off the top of his head.  Eliminate surprises.

There’s no question that Strickland hit just about every point Heath said Strickland needed to.  Strickland clearly placed the economy at the feet of the collapse of Wall Street and tied that to Kasich’s role at Lehman Brothers.

Strickland did not hit the second point as hard as he could, but he repeatedly hit Kasich for having risky ideas.  Ideas that Kasich did not defend well (if at all) or demonstrated that he had any plan at all to deal with.

Kasich?

He should have said a noun, a verb, and jobs.  He didn’t.  We heard just as much about pig snouts than the word jobs.

He did not ask Ohioans if they were better off than four years ago.  He did not even lay the job losses at Strickland’s feet beyond a reference to NCR.

Kasich did not blame the President or the Democratic Congress for the current economy.

Kasich made a surprise with his “No job losses from China” gaffe.  His admission that not only would he, too, would have accepted the stimulus money, but also a second round if it came, made Kasich’s criticism as a hypocrite.  Kasich also repeated a number of charges that even the Columbus Dispatch today reported as untrue when he made them in their editorial board interview.

Kasich eliminated all doubt that he intends to eliminate tax expenditures as a means to balance the budget, even though the ATR today says that would violate Kasich’s pledge.  Kasich tried to side step it by claiming that in his mind it wouldn’t.  The Dispatch’s Daily Briefing blog ain’t buying it:

Guess that’s consistent with Kasich’s position that ending tax breaks is not the same as a tax increase.

But it also makes an interesting comparison with Kasich’s criticism of Strickland for not carrying out the final year of the planned five-year state income tax cut. Kasich has no problem labeling THAT a tax increase.

There was another, more intangible expectation for Kasich that he failed:

"The thing you have to caution John Kasich about, and I’m sure his advisers are, is not to be a smart aleck," Sharkey said. "That’s sort of John’s soft underbelly – that he comes off too glib.”

Seriously, do I even need to respond?  Kasich’s pen poking, his angry tone, his flippant answers.  Kasich did not appear gubernatorial at all.

Kasich’s punches didn’t land because there was a huge disconnect.  He attacked Strickland for attacking him because Strickland never talks about his record… halfway through a debate where Strickland talked about his record in confident, optimistic tones.  After spending the entire debate attack Ted, he tried to segway to a hoky, over-the-top positive closing that just didn’t connect.

Strickland communicated his record more effectively than Kasich did his plans.  Kasich never actually promised to repeal Ohio’s income taxes.  He didn’t mention his plan to repeal Ohio’s estate tax.  In fact, I can’t recall the last time he mentioned it.

He never once mentioned his job training plan or his regulatory reform plan.

Kasich left an impression that he was all attack, no plan.

Strickland, on the other hand, reminded people that he was Governor, and why.  His campaign has been slow to defend and articulate his record on education, higher education, taxes, regulatory reform, green energy, etc.  Tonight he did so confidently and clearly.

He also pointed out some of the issues we’ve mentioned here.  That Kasich compares Ohio to States like Nevada and Florida, even though those States are worse off than Ohio.  That Ted Strickland has done exactly what Kasich has said Ohio needs.  Kasich had no response.

I think because Ted Strickland achieved more of what the media said either campaign needed to do, he wins by default.

  • Bob

    Great analysis, but let’s wait and see if the actual news reporting sticks with these themes. I’ve learned all too well that The Daily Briefing in The Dispatch is not the same as what is printed or featured. The “No job losses from China” gaffe was not reported in this morning’s edition.

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