The Battle Between Trump and Kasich Plays Out in Ohio Friday

Jan 4, 2017

Ordinarily, if a presidential candidate were to win the battleground state of Ohio by a fairly sizeable margin of 446,841 votes out of slightly more than 7.8 million cast, you might think that candidate and his political party in Ohio would be on very good terms.

That margin of victory for Donald Trump is the largest for a GOP presidential candidate in Ohio since George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Ohio Republicans should be dancing in the streets.

There should be peace in the valley. The lion should lie down with the lamb.  Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-a-Dee-ay; My, oh my, what a wonderful day!

Well, maybe not.

This is Ohio, after all. And the Ohio Republican Party of which we speak.

To say there is bad blood between the party hierarchy, headed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and the forces of President-elect Donald Trump in Ohio, would be a major understatement.

That is why, on Friday in Columbus, 66 members of the Ohio Republican Party's central committee, its governing body, will meet to decide whether or not to boot out state party chairman Matt Borges.

Borges was put in that office after Kasich was elected governor in 2010; and all he has done since then is run a state party organization that has done nothing but win statewide elections, with a nearly flawless record.

Under ordinary circumstances, his party's central committee would be placing a laurel wreath on his brow and hailing him as a political genius.

Instead, he has a Trump-backed challenger – Jane Timken, the vice chair of the Stark County Republican Party, taking him on for the chairmanship.

What is going on here?

The Trump forces say that Borges wasn't sufficiently enthusiastic about Trump's candidacy after Trump had bested Kasich for the GOP nomination.

After a video surfaced during the campaign of Trump making vulgar comments about women in 2005, Borges was quoted as saying he wasn't sure who he would vote for in November; and told GOP candidates in Ohio they should feel free to withdraw their endorsements of Trump.

One who did was U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Terrace Park, who ended up winning his race for re-election by 21 percentage points.

And, of course, Kasich never did endorse Trump. At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Kasich – the "host governor" of the event – never set foot in the convention hall; and for the rest of the campaign spent his time helping congressional candidates around the country raise money.

Bob Paduchik, an old hand in Ohio politics, was tapped by Trump to run his Ohio campaign. Now, Paduchik has been rewarded for his work in Ohio with the number two position in the Republican National Committee.

Last month, Paduchik sent e-mails to all 66 members of the central committee endorsing Timken and telling them that Trump's win in Ohio was made more difficult by Borges' "failure to support and defend our nominee."

Borges has consistently said that the state party organization did everything it could to help the Trump campaign in Ohio.

Saturday, Borges sent an e-mail to the 66 central committee members saying he had the support of a majority of them. And he attached a list of over 100 GOP leaders around the state who are not members of the committee - from Kasich on down to county commissioners and township trustees - who have endorsed him. 

Still, he is a state party chair being challenged. 

So who, then, is Jane Timken?

She is a lawyer and the wife of Tim Timken, the CEO of TimkenSteel Corp. in Canton. She is also a Cincinnati native, a graduate of Walnut Hills High School.

The "name" Timken is powerful in GOP circles in that part of the state. It is to northeast Ohio politics what the name Lindner has been to GOP fundraising in southwest Ohio.

In fact, Paduchik said in his e-mail to central committee members that Jane Timken raised more than $1 million for the Trump campaign.

Ann Becker of West Chester, a long-time tea party activist in Butler County and Cincinnati, was co-chair of the Trump campaign in Butler County; and she was elected to the state central committee for the first time in November.

Friday's meeting will be her first as a central committee member.

Becker said she will be supporting Timken.

"I've talked to her and I think she understands the role of the party,'' Becker said. "She wants transparency in the party organization, which is something we have not always had. I think she would make a good chair.

"I had a call from Matt Borges too,'' Becker said. "He is a kind man, always professional. But I really believe that the leadership of the state party hurt the (Trump) campaign."

The party leadership, Becker said, often overlooks people who make up the grassroots base of the GOP.

"Not just the tea party folks, but the evangelicals, the Second Amendment people,'' Becker said. "Everyone needs to be brought into the party. That's just good old-fashioned grassroots politics."

The vote Friday will be a secret ballot; and committee members must attend in order to vote.

"A lot of this is going to depend on who shows up,'' Becker said.

Brittany Warner, communications director of the Ohio Republican Party, said that, as of Thursday, no committee member has told the party he or she can't attend.

"The only thing that might change that is some bad weather,'' Warner said in an e-mail to WVXU. "But right now, all 66 are expected to attend."

If so, that might be good news for Borges.

He needs a simple majority – 34 votes – to retain the chairmanship.

Warner said that "a majority of the members (34) have already committed to voting for him, in addition to others."

Some of the Southwest Ohio central committee members are playing their cards close to the vest – they simply won't say what they will do.

Former congressman Bob McEwen, a central committee member of the 7th Ohio Senate District, said he wants to talk with other central committee members before making up his mind. He said he particularly wants to talk to his fellow 7th District central committee member, former state representative Michelle Schneider.

McEwen said he can understand arguments on both sides.

"It depends on how you look at it,'' McEwen said. "If you are looking at it as a chairman who is good at getting Republicans elected, then Matt is second to none,'' McEwen said. "Or you can look at it recognizing that this is a time of change. And the new president has spoken out for a change in the Ohio Republican Party."

Former Madeira mayor Mary Anne Christie, the honorary chairwoman of the Hamilton County GOP who served as a member of Electoral College from Ohio last month, is not saying how she will vote Friday.

She did say she has been bombarded with pitches from both sides.

"To me, this is just a terrible situation,'' Christie said. "I wish this would just go away. But it won't. I'm hoping there is some way the two sides can work this out for the central committee meeting."

Working something out is the mission Hamilton County GOP chairman Alex Triantafilou has taken on for himself.

He has been close to Borges and Kasich, but after Kasich failed to win the presidential nomination, he jumped into the Trump campaign with both feet – even though Trump ended up losing Hamilton County to Hillary Clinton.

"I'm trying to work behind the scenes to see if there is any way we can work this out,'' Triantafilou told WVXU recently.

Triantafilou said Borges is a friend, but said that Timken is impressive. Timken was in Cincinnati Dec. 4 for the "Victory Tour" rally Trump had at US Bank Arena, as well as a big-bucks fundraiser for the Republican National Committee at the Queen City Club that Trump attended before the rally.

"Look, we are lucky we have such good people to run for this,'' Triantafilou said. "Still, I'd like to be able to work something out."

That's quite a task. If Triantafilou were to be successful in being the peacemaker in this family fight, the president-elect might want to reconsider his nominee for Secretary of State.