The stakes could not be higher this cycle for Ohio Republicans, as some of the top GOP leaders in America move to sideline intraparty rivalries and focus on a larger goal: delivering a victory over President Barack Obama in 2012.
Among the new guard: Speaker John Boehner, who leads the first elected tea party class on Capitol Hill; Sen. Rob Portman, a frequently mentioned vice presidential pick and the political gatekeeper to crucial southwest Ohio; and Gov. John Kasich, a gutsy former Congressman and media personality beloved by his in-state base. These Ohio Republican leaders, elected in November, are attempting to work together on a national level for the very first time.
There was enough concern about their ability to coordinate that the party brought in Darren Bearson, a seasoned national operative with extensive presidential campaign experience, to serve as the Ohio Republican Party executive director. Bearson is not an Ohio native and has no allegiances to Buckeye State Republicans at any level. Tapping him was viewed as insurance for a collection of elected officials and entrenched political operatives hesitant to relinquish control of their fiefdoms.
“Are they large personalities? Yes, they are,” Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine said. “Those are large personalities and large responsibilities. When it comes to delivering Ohio for our presidential nominee, there will be no daylight between Boehner, Portman, Kasich and the Ohio Republican Party.”
A perennial swing state, Ohio has flipped back and forth with the tide the past few cycles, providing narrow victories to the White House winners while also boosting the surging political party in the midterms. Ohio is pivotal to the Republicans, who have never won a presidential campaign without carrying the Buckeye State.
The GOP infrastructure has always been strong there. Ohio is a mandatory whistle stop on the party’s national fundraising circuit, and the state boasts a wealth of capable politicians and operatives with a record of winning high-profile campaigns. But over the years, these same individuals have developed competing, deep-seated alliances, and that poses a challenge in an election cycle where success will require unity.
“One of problems we have on a staff level is that everyone is tied to one of the leaders. We needed to find an ED that was from neutral ground, so we went outside of state for the first time since Brian Barry came from Texas in ’90,” said Barry Bennett, a veteran Republican operative who is based in Washington, D.C., but has advised Kasich, Portman and several Congressmen. “No one is getting special favors. Everyone will work together. True, they have not worked together like this before, but working together when it’s raining success is pretty easy to do.”