OK. Here we go.

The season is underway for wedging and winnowing. Former New York Times columnist Russell Baker once described the dreadful moment as the “great mentioning game”. It’s that period when political writers, groping about in a vacuum, become so bored in the absence of an exciting clearcut narrative that they spend a lot of their time mentioning garden variety… potential, possible, long shot, dark horse, putative, water-testing, hat-not-quite -in-the-ring presidential candidates. And that’s not to mention dithering others who could yet wedge themselves into the swollen field of wannabes and never-to-bes.

Latest word from the front comes from Sen. Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican who has been on some pundits’ A-lists ever since as a swing-stater he tagged along in jeans and casual shirts with Mitt Romney in the Mother of Presidents to show that he was a key player. He finally ended a non-suspenseful inconclusive run by announcing that he would not run for the Oval Office. That, folks, is all that we needed to clear the path for another Ohioan, Gov. Kasich, relieving papers like the Columbus Dispatch of having to choose between their two favorite sons.

To paradoxically disprove that a national candidacy is on his agenda, Kasich was last reported by Bloomberg News to be heading out west – Arizona and Idaho – to cast himself as a champion of a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget. That has been a chestnut the conservatives love to roast as a righteous political edible. It is a close second to the Pledge of Allegiance.

A recent CNN poll listed Kasich with 2 pct. of public support as a presidential candidate. That may be a reason that spurred him into playing the balanced budget card.

For Kasich, his subtext will be that he succeeded in balancing the state budget, not because the Buckeye Constitution required him to, but because it was right, dammit, even if the wrong institutions (schools, cities, etc) suffered the fallout. But the guv says the time is here to do something heroic about the Feds. Since he claims never to read newspapers, he may have overlooked President Obama’s rising successes in keeping the country economically afloat after the Bush Recession.

A bit of history, if I may: Kasich, fashionably for the right-wingers, opposed the auto industry bailout and the stimulus, keys to the turnaround. (Struggling to square the circle, Mitt Romney once conceded that the economy was getting better even as he complained that Obama made it worse.)

Kasich, who never saw a massive problem that he couldn’t solve with Wall Street metrics, now rises as the Buckeye Horatio, insisting that we should stonewall Fed spending before it’s too late. “It is not a complicated thing,” he explains. “…Systems will melt down, people will be hurt and our children will be put behind the eight ball.”

Hey! Been there done that. Not that long ago. And for those of you who have never engaged in pool, you don’t take risks with eight balls. Unless, of course, you are headed west to establish yourself as a serious, larger-than-life candidate with national tendencies. A wedger or a winnow?